Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

For the love of mothers on Mother’s Day

May 15, 2023

I swear I saw them cut the umbilical cord when my two boys were born. And yet, it often feels like that never happened.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve had this discussion many times with other moms as we feel big feelings when we lament our kids’ challenges, share their successes, and see them into adulthood. There’s never a shortage of topics when talking about the highs and the lows. Everyone has them, right? Some way more than others. That, after all, is part of our job of being a mom.

But I had no idea. I honestly thought that kids would grow up and we wouldn’t be needed as much. They’d grow up. We’d grow apart. The worries and anxieties would stop. Ha. Was I wrong. These days it seems many of our kids are still so attached. Some call or text throughout the day, every day. Others only reach out if they need something or if there’s a problem. We stay attached. The umbilical cord symbolically uncut.

Me and my mom.

I’m thinking about this today, which is Mother’s Day. Because both of my boys are out of town today, I’ve spent more time wishing other mothers Happy Mother’s Day. So many mothers. So many wishes! Words of affirmation. Acknowledgements of struggles. Beautiful pictures posted to social media. To those who get to spend the day with their kids, enjoy this time. To those whose kids aren’t around, I hope you are looking forward to the next time you’ll see each others.

Since we are the sandwich generation, some of my friends and relatives are lucky enough to still have their mothers around to send greetings to or to spend time with. I, sadly, lost my mother when I was only 29 years old. That was a long time ago and I was young (the age my oldest son is now). I was pissed. I know it wasn’t her fault that she got sick and died. But I was still pissed. Even though we had a fraught relationship once I hit my teen years, I just wasn’t ready for it. Once I had children of my own I really started to miss her. There was no one to go to for advice. There was no one to ooh and ahh over the cute babies. My father was great. But he wasn’t my mother. I’m still sad that she never got to enjoy the joy of grandchildren.

Luckily I am blessed to have two other mother figures in my life – my mother-in-law and my mother’s youngest sister. They are both excellent examples of what to do as a mother, and what not to do, which is okay. We all have to learn from each other and I have learned much from them and appreciate having them in my life. They’re not the same as my own mother, but are good surrogates.

I am also very privileged to have so many other mothers to turn to – my good friends who have spent many hours commiserating with me over raising children. I look to them for advice and sometimes even offer some myself. But most importantly, I’m happy to hear them out and so appreciate it when they do that for me as well.

I looked up the history of Mother’s Day, thinking that it was another Hallmark holiday. But it’s much richer than that. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and spread throughout Europe. The American Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis later denounced the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. But it’s still there – cards, flowers, brunch and all. I think it’s great. We need to spend some time really appreciating all the mothers in the world – wishing each other a good day – and understanding that the umbilical cord was never cut.

My boys! Always up for an adventure!


How LinkedIn, Airbnb and Seattle Metro reunited $1,100 cash with its Saudi owner

July 28, 2021

Imagine visiting a foreign country by yourself and losing your wallet. ID card – gone. Credit cards – gone. $1,100 in cash – gone.

That’s what happened to a visitor from Riyadh who joined me last week on one of my Airbnb experiences. We enjoyed a nice little hike together on a Monday morning. He paid me a very generous tip, wrote a positive review and we said so long. As with most of my Airbnb experience guests, I assumed I’d never hear from him again.

That’s how it played out until the next evening. While relaxing in front of the TV around 9 p.m. I received a message from him – first through the Airbnb app, then via text, then on WhatsApp. “Hi Cynthia, how are you doing? I need your help if you can.”

I responded: “What’s up?”

I had no idea those two words would lead me on a three-day quest to help out this foreign traveler, who informed me that he had left his wallet on a Metro bus in Seattle. Luckily, he still had his Saudi passport with him. He called the University of Washington Police Department to see if anyone had found the wallet (he was staying at an Airbnb in the U District). The police offered no advice. He was scheduled to take the train to Portland and decided to cancel his credit cards and head south with $50 in cash.

In an amazing stroke of luck, someone messaged him via LinkedIn to say they had found his wallet and turned it into Lost and Found at King County Metro. Since I was the only person who he had contact information for in the Seattle area, he reached out to ask if I could retrieve the wallet for him. He asked that I mail the wallet via UPS and wire the cash to him via Western Union to Portland  – or to his next destination – San Francisco. He even sent me a photo of his passport with all his personal information.

I put myself in his shoes and agreed to help out.

He thanked me “Seriously I do appreciate what you will do for me. I will not forget it whole my life,” he texted.

Are you thinking that something must be up with this? Could this be a scam? I wondered the same thing. But I thought it through and couldn’t figure out what the scam would be.

He then texted me the lost and found report he filed with Metro and gave me their address and phone number. The next morning I headed to the Metro office in Pioneer Square. They e-mailed my new Saudi friend to get permission to release the wallet to me and I was able to retrieve it – and the full $1,100. I noticed on the log that I signed that it was the most amount of cash anyone had retrieved. My new friend was incredibly lucky. Not only did someone find his wallet, they found him on LinkedIn, reached out to him, he responded, and they didn’t steal a dime. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about this. But the cynic in me can’t help but be amazed.

I took the wallet to UPS to send to Portland. And I took the $1,100 cash to the Western Union at my local Safeway to wire it to my new friend. He told me to take any fees out of the $1,100 and to send him whatever was left over. And he told me to keep $100 for myself. By 12:15 p.m. I was done.

Or so I thought. I messaged him the receipts for UPS and Western Union and kept waiting to get a notice that he had retrieved his money.

At 8:04 p.m., I got a text message from him telling me to look at WhatsApp. He was unable to retrieve the money from Western Union in Portland. After spending nearly two yours working with him, the Western Union rep in Portland and a Western Union rep I connected with through corporate, it was determined that Western Union had messed up.

The transaction wouldn’t work. I’d have to cancel it in person back at the Safeway where I made the original transaction and would have to try again. It was too late to deal with it that evening, so I’d have to go back in the morning. Meanwhile, my friend had no cash. So I wired him $200 out of my own account to hold him over.

You’re thinking – why would you give him money? I did it because I was confident I’d get a refund from Western Union the next day and I could take the $200 out of the $950 I wired him (the amount left over after paying all the fees to send his wallet and to wire him the funds).

I got up early the next morning to get to Western Union at Safeway before I started my workday. The same clerk who helped me the day before was there but said she couldn’t open the Western Union computer until 9. So I returned around noon to try again. This time I was able to get the $950 refund. But Western Union failed to refund the $90 fee! The Safeway clerk patiently worked with them and even continued to work with Western Union after I left for a previously scheduled appointment. At this point, I heard from my friend that his wallet had arrived – completely intact with all his cancelled credit cards and two forms of ID in it.

I went back a few hours later and got the $90 fee, which Western Union finally reimbursed to for. I deposited all the money in my own bank account, believing it would be easier to make the transfer from my own bank account by calling Western Union, rather than trying to make a cash transfer like I did at the Western Union at Safeway. The previous night I was able to send $200 from my own account over the phone. Ultimately, after another 45 minutes on the phone, which included three debit card and one credit card rejections, that method worked. My friend was able to retrieve his money at a Western Union kiosk at a Safeway in Portland and he was on his way! He sent me a photo of the cash in hand at 6:47 p.m.

Why am I writing about this? First off, it’s a pretty crazy story. Secondly, it proves that sometimes people do the right thing. Many people did the right thing to help out this foreign traveler – everyone from the person who found the wallet and contacted him via LinkedIn to all the clerks along the way to the nice Airbnb experience host (that’s me).

That said, I will never use Western Union again. It so saddened me to see the unbanked who were behind me in line who had to waste so much time and spend so much in exorbitant fees to transfer money.

Ironically, during the midst of this, a memory popped up on my Facebook page from July 22, 2014, where I wrote a post about a stranger in New Jersey who found my son’s cell phone at the airport and turned it in to Verizon. Verizon checked the serial number, called me, and mailed it back.

It’s true. Humans can be … well, human! I told my new friend that the next time I’m in Riyadh he’d owe me dinner. He told me to call. And he left me with this message with a photo of a Starbucks drink he bought with a gift card I tucked into his wallet: “I am heading home, I just want to say thank you again for what you did for me. U safe my trip and make it great. Thank you for the last coffee in state.”

The inside secret of how to get out of jury duty

May 13, 2020

Several years ago, my elderly father was called to jury duty. We decided to write this letter on his behalf.

King County Superior Court
516 3rd Ave.
Juror Assembly Room, 1st Floor
Seattle, WA 98104

July 29, 2014

Dear Jury Clerk.

Thank you for not automatically discriminating against me because of my age or address. I’m sure you checked the voter registration rolls before sending the jury summons to me and know that since I was born on Sept. 19, 1918, that I am nearly 96 years old. In fact, I will be 11 days away from my 96th birthday when my jury service is set to begin. I’m sure you also checked the address and noted that I live in a nursing home. Of course, to qualify to live in a nursing home I need help with my ADLs – those are Activities of Daily Living, which include at least some of the following: Dressing, Bathing, Eating, Toileting, Transferring (walking) and Continence. I need help with some of those, but I don’t feel that I need to tell you which ones ;-).

Although I have honed my opinion and happily and vocally shared it over the course of my 95 years of life, I have now reached the point in my life where I believe I should be allowed to step aside and let someone younger serve jury duty. However, if you do not think that is a good enough reason to excuse me from jury duty, I hope you will provide the following accommodations so that I can properly serve:

1) I assume you’ll be sending an escort and car. I can no longer get anywhere on my own and the nursing home requires that I have 24-hour care.
2) Please wait for me. I walk very slowly with my walker and am usually late. In fact, can we start after 11 a.m.? Getting anywhere before then is really hard for me.
3) Please make sure an ADA-approved bathroom is no more than a 2-minute shuffle from the courtroom. It must be accessible at all times because for someone my age, when you gotta go, you really gotta go. I would hate for an accident in the juror’s box to be grounds for an appeal.
4) The court shall assume all risk of injury. Old people like me are affected by gravity more that the rest of you youngins.
5) Will the court mind if I ask questions? After all these years, I have a lot of questions to ask and time is running out for me to get the answers.
6) It will be best if all the parties speaking would be male. No women or high talkers, as they are out of my limited hearing range. Males must speak very loudly, slowly and distinctly.
7) Can I give a closing remark? I love to make speeches and usually volunteer to speak at all weddings and funerals. Why should court be any different?
8) Don’t let the scraggly beard scare you off. It’s part of my old guy image – along with the hearing aids and glasses (that I sometimes forget to wear). Along those same lines, can I have a really big Juror badge? I have to be able to read it and I don’t want anyone to mistake me for a homeless person.
9) Is napping a problem? How about drooling, burping, farting or coughing?
10) Can you guarantee that someone in the courtroom will be in his or her 90s? After all, aren’t they supposed to have a “jury of their peers?”
11) Will it be a problem if we issue a news release to let the media know that there is going to be a 95-year-old juror? I think I’m pretty newsworthy. Google me to confirm that.

If you are unable to make appropriate accommodations then I respectfully request to be excused from jury duty at this time. If you think I need more explanation to be excused then maybe I should appear in court because there is obviously a lack of common sense there and I still have plenty to spare.


Philip N. Flash

P.S. Have a super, super, super wonderful wonderful day. Good things all the time. I hope something good happens today that makes you smile.

$100 cheesesteaks, iPhone smoothies and sexy Puerto Rican videos: The secrets of contagious marketing revealed

February 6, 2018

You’ve seen those crazy videos – the ones that quickly rise to millions of  views. Ever wonder what makes them go viral? Ever wonder why things catch on?

U Penn Wharton School marketing Prof. Jonah Berger answers this question in an entertaining, quick fashion in his book “Contagious – Why things catch on.” It’s a must-read for any marketing professional interested in spreading the word to the masses.

I recently read “Contagious” for an Integrated Marketing Communications continuing education class I’m taking at my alma mater the University of Washington. I spent the first half of my career working as a journalist and the second have as a public relations consultant. With the traditional media landscape shrinking and new media exploding and fragmenting the way we communicate I determined it’s time for me to add marketing to my skillset. This class has opened my eyes to many new ways to communicate and get my clients’ messages to the right people.

The book comes to life with the examples of catchy and memorable marketing campaigns. Some involved huge marketing teams for Fortune 500 companies. Others were created by an individual with virtually no budget. All are noteworthy and offer lessons in brilliant ways to bring in customers and sell products. Here are two of my favorites:

  1. The $100 cheesesteak created by Barclay Prime in Philadelphia – Barclay Prime created this crazy concoction to draw new patrons to its high-end steak house.
  2. Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” campaign shows off the amazing powers of the company’s blender by blending everything from golf balls to iPhones.

Interestingly, Berger notes that despite so much focus on social media, online conversations reach only 7 percent of people. Word of mouth and real conversations are way better ways to spread the word.

He  outlines his six “STEPP” principles to drive things to catch on.  Here are the steps and some examples of when, how and why they work:

  1. Social Currency – We share things that make us look good

Example: The secret “Please Don’t Tell” bar in New York only for those in the know.

  1. Triggers – Top of mind, tip of tongue

Example: Sales of Mars candy bars increased when NASA’s Pathfinder was on its way to Mars.

Example: Votes in favor of school levies are higher when people vote at a school.

  1. Emotion – When we care, we share

Example: What is the one emotion that creates the most viral videos? Berger’s own research, based on most shared New York Times articles and viral videos, is the emotion of awe – “the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity or might…It encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked by everything from great works of art or music to religious transformations, from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery.”  Check out these popular viral videos and see if you agree:

Decpacito, featuring music, scenery and sex

Charlie Bit Me, featuring adorable, hilarious kids

  1. Public – Built to show, built to grow

Example: In 2003 a group of friends from Melbourne, Australia, decided to grow mustaches during November to raise awareness of men’s cancer. The idea caught on and now men all over the world grow facial hair in “Movember” and raise money and support for men’s health.

  1. Practical Value – News you can use

Example: Sharing usable content builds brand. I’m offering usable content in this blog post and I hope you’ll share it to help build my “Flash Media Services” brand.

  1. Stories – Information travels under the guise of idle chatter

Example: Stories are wonderful ways to deliver messages. The most successful message sharing of any of my clients, Providence Mount St. Vincent, came in the form of a story around a nursing home that shared space with a daycare center. A video trailer of a movie about this nursing home has been seen by millions of people and generated hundreds of news stories.

One of the keys to selling products and getting clients involves marketing to the masses. Lessons learned in Berger’s book “Contagious” offer research and examples to help marketers attain success.

Facing the holidays after losing a loved one

November 20, 2017

Dale painting 2Two short months after my father-in-law Dale passed away our family faced the very difficult challenge of celebrating Christmas in his house – without this patriarch we loved so much. Dale was a man you couldn’t help but love. He was quirky and jolly and quite chatty – for an engineer. He pulled his large and growing family together at family events – with memorable adult Easter egg hunts, Thanksgivings that started with a speech and crazy Christmas celebrations where he put up with the antics of all the grand kids that were encouraged by his wife Hellen. The kids bounced on a mini trampoline, dressed in grandma’s clothes, and slid down the steep carpeted stairs in sleeping bags. Good times!

Then Dale died. Cancer ravaged his body, rendering him unable to swallow. The feeding tube helped for several months, but ultimately failed. There was nothing more to do. With Dale only 73, the family gathered around his hospital bed on a sunny Labor Day and said good bye.

But time marches on. Summer turned to fall. Fall to winter. Christmas was upon us. We faced it with dread. What would Christmas be like without Dale? Everyone grieves differently. Some cry. Some talk. Some turn inward. Leon, married to Dale’s oldest daughter Heidi, harnessed his artistic talents. Lovingly – he painted Dale’s face on an angel. Then used it to top the tree. Okay, it was a bit weird. And creepy. But it was also comforting to know that Dale was looking down on the family that first Christmas without him.

The next year angel Dale stayed away. And before long the house was sold and many of the Dale-centric holiday traditions went away as well. The family was quickly growing with new spouses, significant others, additional children. The Dale Christmas years were just a happy memory for all of us who had the privilege to participate in them.

With all the joyous rituals, decorations and memories that surround the winter holidays, the death of a loved one can cause stress and turmoil for those who are grieving.

Having worked with Providence Hospice of Seattle for the past dozen years, I’ve written several stories about grief and the holidays. Here’s some advice from Rex Allen, manager of Providence Hospice grief support services:

Those who are grieving shouldn’t be afraid to take the time and space needed to work through that grief.

“Going back to our roots is really important and everything on the table is up to be reconsidered,” Allen says. “What may have made sense at one point may not make sense today. The closer you are to when the death occurred, the more challenging it will be.”

It’s okay to turn down invitations to holiday events if you’re not feeling up to it. “Take out your calendar and just write `NO’ on it. When someone says, `come do this,’ check your calendar, say your calendar says `No.’ It takes a lot of courage to say `this is how I’m going to do it right now because this is what I can do.'”

The death of a loved one brings change, and change is often hard to deal with. But in reality, we are constantly changing. Instead of fearing this change, embrace it and grow from it. “The wonderful thing about the holidays – all the traditions are about remembering and renewing. They give us another chance to step back at the end of the year and say, `here is where I have grown, here is what I’m having trouble with, and I can determine what that means for me in the future,” Allen says.

While it’s important to be in the moment and reflect on the past, Allen tells grieving families to look forward as well. “Eventually as we move through this season and the days get warmer and the leaves change and come back, what we feel today will have shifted in ways that hopefully we have had the opportunity to learn and that is one of the most magnificent things about grief – it’s a teacher if we open ourselves to it,” he says.

Happy Holidays. Enjoy your traditions. Make memories.

Return to Rhodes – again

June 30, 2017

I’ve just returned from a family trip to Rhodes, the now-Greek island where my mother and her family lived until they fled the Nazis in 1939. They lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Medieval Old Town of Rodos at the northern tip of the island. Although the island is 60-miles long, most of the attention is lavished on Rodos, where thousands of cruise ship tourists flock to enjoy a bevy of Greek restaurants, inexpensive souvenirs, nightclubs and plenty of marked (and unmarked) archeological ruins just past the main streets.

Now that I’m back, I’m trying to reflect on what I saw in Rhodes, how I felt, and to find some meaning in the juxtaposition of the island’s past with its current form.

Rhodes has a long and varied history. Many know it for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but there’s much more to it than that. The largest of the Dodecanese Islands, lying between Greece and Turkey, it was first settled during the 15th Century B.C. E. Over the next six centuries, the 540-square-mile island fell into the hands of the Achaeans, the Dorians, the Romans, the Persians, the Seldjuks and the Byzantines. The Byzantines fortified the city with a thick brick wall in 1261 A.D., and in 1309 the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem settled in the city after returning from the Holy Land. The Turks captured Rhodes from the Nights of St. John in 1522, making it part of the Ottoman Empire. But they lost the island to the Italians during the Italo-Turkish war of 1912. At the time, the Italians annexed all the Dodecanese Islands to the Italian Empire. After World War II, in March 1947, the Dodecanese Islands were annexed to Greece.

The Jews of Rhodes grew from a community of 400 to 5,000 before World War II. They led a vibrant Jewish life that centered around several schools and five synagogues. That is, until the entire community was wiped out on July 23, 1944, when Hitler’s Nazis rounded up the remaining 1,673 Jews on the island and sent them to Auschwitz concentration camp. Only 151 survived.

My mother’s family fled Rhodes in 1939 – something that in retrospect was a huge blessing. Of course, they didn’t realize that at the time, as they became refugees and left behind family and friends. Because of this luck, the family survived and eventually earned visas to enter the United States in 1946 after spending seven years in Tangier, Morocco. I grew up with the story and have chronicled it in A Hug From Afar, which details the family’s immigration story through letters and documents my mother Claire Barkey wrote to her uncle Ralph and aunty Rachel Capeluto in Seattle. As a result of this book, I’ve been immersed in the family’s story for many years. It’s been a large part of my life.

So, what would it be like to return to Rhodes in 2017 – with my husband, two adult sons and several other family members? I went to Rhodes the first time in 1999, for an amazing reunion of 37 family members, including four Barkey siblings to guide us around their old stomping ground.

I was looking forward to this trip, where we would be joined by two cousins’ families and my mother’s youngest sister. I was excited to introduce my immediate family to this beautiful and historic island.

One of the highlights of a return to Rhodes is visiting the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Greece, established in 1557 during the Ottoman era. It still stands in the Jewish quarter of the Old Town and has been exquisitely preserved and renovated with the help of foreign donors. In 1997, the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, in the former women’s section of Kahal Shalom, was established to preserve the Jewish history and culture of the Jews of Rhodes.

Our group toured the synagogue and museum on our first full day in Rhodes, spending time reading the history and looking at the artifacts in the museum and joining together to read three psalms to commemorate the event at the synagogue. We noted the plaque outside the synagogue door naming all the families who perished in the Holocaust, including two of my mother’s aunts’ families and several other families with descendants in the Seattle Jewish community. We chatted with other visitors, playing “Jewish geography” until we found common friends and relatives. We checked out the small gift shop and spoke to caretaker Carmen Cohen, a Jewish woman from mainland Greece who works tirelessly to maintain the synagogue and museum.

After visiting the synagogue, we roamed the streets looking for other remnants of the family’s past. Unlike in 1999, they were harder to find because no one on this journey remembered where they were. We followed a map of Jewish sites and found the standing facade of the former Alliance Israelite Universelle school that my uncles attended and what we believe may be remnants of another synagogue.

The following day we visited the cemetery where several of our relatives are buried, along with thousands of other Jews from Rhodes. During my last night on Rhodes I wandered the back streets and alleys alone, thinking about how my ancestors had done the same thing nearly 80 years ago!

Among Rhodes descendants, it’s common for families to make pilgrimages to Rhodes. There is even a website where people can notify others that they are going to visit. I marveled at this fact and wondered why people are still connected to a place where the language is no longer the same that our ancestors spoke, where only a handful of Jews remain, and that serves as a sad reminder to a vibrant community lost at the hands of cruelty. What is the draw? Why do people still go there? Why do we still care? And how long will descendants continue to flock to this place that holds nothing new, only fading memories?

There’s no question that the island is magical. Fresh sea breezes from the multiple shades of vibrant blue Aegean Sea waft into the well-preserved walled Old City. It’s no wonder Rhodes is one of the most popular tourist sites in Europe. A trip to Rhodes can be a beach vacation, a historic endeavor, a shopping spree – or all of the above. I wonder if this is why so many Jews with ancestors from Rhodes come back. It’s easy, pleasant, and relatively simple to do. And after touring the synagogue, museum and cemetery, it’s natural to turn the visit into a shopping, eating and beach extravaganza. Would there be the same interest in a cold, abandoned Polish or Russian village?

But what will happen once future generations lose the connection to Rhodes? What can we expect when these generations forget the stories of their ancestors, lose the family recipes for food eaten in Rhodes, no longer feel the pain of those lost in the Holocaust? What will happen if they flee the Jewish religion?

I don’t have the answers. I do know that my generation is doing all in its power to keep the memories, culture and religion alive. We support the synagogue and museum in Rhodes with visits, donations and religious and historic education.

Many of the Jews of Rhodes – Sephardic Jews – trace their history to the expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition. But the first Jews in Rhodes can be traced back way further, to the 12th century, when Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, Spain, first referenced a Jewish community of about 400 Jews there. It’s unknown when they arrived.

Just like we don’t know exactly when the Jews arrived in Rhodes, we don’t know when they’ll stop coming. That is the question I’m left with after visiting this summer. Will my children ever return? Will their children? I may never know. But for now, I hope visitors keep going – and supporting the institutions that are there as reminders of a community that was. And, perhaps, at some point in the future, it will be transformed into a living Jewish community, instead of one that simply remembers the past.

So Close – the end of the story – Part 3

July 21, 2016

cow buttPart 3 (Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Within a day or so of my initial inquiry, Seattle ArtREsource responded that the painting was indeed still for sale – for $48,000(!), which the gallery said it determined with Pace Gallery’s guidance. It also was selling another Close “Cow.” Then, adding insult to injury and completely contradicting John’s theory, the Seattle ArtREsource director added that it would be included in the first Chuck Close online subscription digital catalogue raisonné, which is essentially the official catalogue of an artists’ work (although it’s not actually there).

And one more thing, he said, “If you are in the area it is worth a visit to view these in person as they are rich in detail that exhibits his strength from a young age.”

If he only knew how many times I’d viewed that dang painting.

Then I contacted the Pace Gallery, the New York gallery that represents Close. It didn’t take me long to get through to the gallery’s senior director. I told him my tale of woe. He said that even if the painting was a Chuck Close student work, that Chuck wouldn’t be too interested in it – and that it wouldn’t be worth “too much.”

Actually, this is exactly what he said: “Early paintings aren’t taken really seriously. It’s only taken serious because it has Chuck Close’s name on the back. Chuck would dismiss it – ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s a student work, who cares?’ I wouldn’t kick myself. We sell Chuck Close to Microsoft and Google guys. That’s who we sell to. Would they be interested in a Chuck Close (student work)? No. I don’t think it’s that big a deal personally. I don’t think my collectors would buy that. Only one who might have been interested, is a museum. Auctions say it wouldn’t do very well. A small mistake was made. I doubt anyone’s going to buy it. If someone does buy it, they’ll buy it for 1/2 that and give it to a museum. It if was a portrait you would have known that. Then you would be writing, `Oh my God we hit oil in the backyard with dad drilling.’ I wouldn’t fret it. You want to kick yourself but it has no significance you didn’t luck out. We have early ones in storage. He would never go back to sign a piece that’s already finished. He wouldn’t change history. All artists would do is nod their head and say `as far as I can tell it was done by my hand.'”

The gallery director predicted the painting would sell for half of the $48,000 asking price. To a gallery that sells multi-million-dollar paintings, that really isn’t “too much.”

But it’s a lot to me and my family.

I also called the thrift shop where I donated the painting. I was hoping that perhaps someone there had recognized it and benefitted greatly from it. If so, perhaps I could take a tax deduction for a big donation. I asked the manager if he had any record of selling a Chuck Close painting. He said no. “Unfortunately we probably looked at it and said `it’s an interesting piece,’ and passed it off.”

I asked ArtREsource’s director how he got the painting in the first place. He said a man (who didn’t appear to be a native of the area because he spoke in broken English) approached the gallery, saying he got the painting from someone who picked it up at the Mercer Island thrift shop. He was happy I verified that that’s where I had donated it, giving provenance to the painting. He also lit up when I mentioned it had been hung upside down – something that explained to him why it came in with the hanging wire on the wrong way. He said he went to the consignor’s house and it was devoid of other important artwork. “I think he needs the money, something he hopes to use for retirement.”

Still trying for something, anything really, I then called our family lawyer, who happens to really understand art, having grown up with art collector parents like me. I asked if there was anything I could do – even to get a tax deduction. She suggested I ask who consigned the painting and try to convince him to sell it back to me for a few thousand dollars.

But after hearing the ArtREsource director explain that the consigner really needed the money I didn’t even try. The lawyer tried to make me feel better. You are downsizing. It happens. I wouldn’t kick yourself over it. Think of the money you saved by not having to insure it.”

My only hope now was that the painting wouldn’t sell – as John predicted.

But my hopes were dashed a month or so later, when I checked the gallery website and saw a “sold” sign on the painting. I e-mailed the ArtREsource director to inquire about the selling price and received a terse e-mail stating: I’m sorry but the selling price is 100% confidential information that I will not divulge out of respect for both the consignor and buyer.”

End of story? Not quite.

Five months later I found Cow listed for sale by a gallery in Carmel, Calif. When I called, the gallery owner said his gallery sold Close’s Cow. He said the gallery never had possession of it, but sold it “in transition to a buyer he had lined up.” But the story of the painting’s provenance didn’t ring true. The gallery owner said it came from a Close cousin in Seattle, which is untrue since our family had possession of it until 2013. The gallery owner said the painting sold for around $75,000. Although I gasped at that number, I also question it since I don’t believe his version of where the painting came from.

Then, two months later I received a notice that Pacific Galleries in Seattle would auction off two of the Close student paintings that were at ArtResource at the same time the gallery had Cow. Estimated listing price for each was $15,000 to $30,000.

John predicted that neither would fetch minimum bids of “even $1,500.”

I watched the auction online. The one most similar to Cow (Close used the same paint on it) sold for $14,000 – just under the estimated low price.


So that is how this story ends, at least for now. Where does that leave me? What’s the moral? I’m still trying to figure it out. Other than feeling bad that I gave away the painting, it also makes me realize how fleeting the price of art really is. In a nutshell, it’s what someone is willing to pay for it. Nothing more; nothing less. Until I see a receipt or auction record for my Cow, I’ll never really know how much it sold for. Until then, I can only guess that it likely was worth around $14,000 – but may have sold for much more. Or not.

Perhaps the only saving grace is that it’s not mentioned in this story about hot thrift store finds. At least, not yet.

So Close (or how I literally had a cow) – Part 2

July 18, 2016

Cow painting rightside upPart 2 (Read Part 1 here)

Now what?

After getting over my shock – and explaining to my husband why I was literally having a cow on the couch – I started sleuthing. As a journalist, that’s what I do. First I e-mailed the art dealer.

“Hi John. Ever have one of those nightmares, when a really valuable piece of artwork slips through your hands because you didn’t realize what it was? Well, I fear that happened with one of the pieces in my father’s collection. Tonight I read a blurb in Seattle Magazine about Seattle ArtResource holding its “Lineage” show featuring artists who attended or taught at UW. I thought it sounded interesting so I looked up the gallery online. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this painting of “Cow.”  It had hung above my parents’ bed (upside down, no less) for as long as I can remember. My father said it was “by some art student.” I guess that “art student” was the now very famous Chuck Close. And I’m kicking myself because I actually saw a tag on the back that said “Charles Close” but I never in my wildest dreams thought it was by THE Chuck Close because it didn’t look like any piece of his that I had ever seen before! This painting didn’t sell at our estate sale. None of the art enthusiasts who came through the house noticed it – not you, not (the estate sale guy), not the (auction house), none of my father’s art friends. In fact, when it didn’t sell, we even let the house stager use it when he staged the house. Check it out in seconds 27/28 in this video:

I’d like to believe it’s not a Chuck Close. But when I see it next to the other ones at that gallery I see a very strong resemblance.

Thoughts? Comments?


I’m not sure what response I was looking for from John. Sympathy? An apology? A vow to “get to the bottom of this?” I wasn’t blaming John. He didn’t give the darn thing away. I did. Here’s what he said:

“I do not remember seeing “the cow”.

I have had two works by Chuck Close from his student work at the university of Washington. Neither one of them sold. I even called (name omitted) at the Pace gallery in NYC  and he expressed no interest in the student work of Chuck close. He has been Chuck’s long time close friend and art dealer.

He told me Chuck would like to see that work just destroyed. I will look through some auction records tomorrow but I do not think the paintings are hyper valuable.  I have no idea really until I do research. Do you remember who you sold this painting to?”

I also e-mailed the gallery to see if Cow had sold.

Meanwhile, John sent another e-mail:

I just looked through the auction records for the past 10 years on Chuck Close.

I saw two student works listed for sale one of them was a work that I had and it was quite small listed at 60 to 80,000 (that’s thousand dollars) and it did not sell and there was another fairly recently that was quite large that was listed at 60 to 100,000 (thousand dollars) and did not sell so just as I suspect there is little or no interest in Chuck close student work. The work that I had 10 years ago was for sale for $3000 and we could not find a buyer. “

Like they say on Pawn Stars – just because someone lists a price on eBay doesn’t mean it will sell for that amount. The real value is how much something sells for. So, according to John’s guess, I gave away a painting that won’t sell for $3,000, not a $100,000 painting.

He sent me screen shots from online auction catalogues showing the Chuck Close works he was referring to – listed in 2010 and 2014 at $40,000 to $100,000. He concluded, “It’s my opinion that there is no developed market for Mr. Close’s undergrad student work from his time at U of W.”

And then this e-mail. Clearly he was pondering this issue:

“Who did you sell this painting to Cynthia?.

Was it signed on the front?. I’m sure it’s a Close but it’s still student work. I’m sad because it’s for sale for a lot more money than your family received. I would never have wanted to sell that painting even if I’d known it was created by Close.

I went through that scenario and spent too much time & resources only to be told…. `Not interested, it’s student work.’ and it sat at my gallery for a long time.” 

Another e-mail:

“I really don’t think it will sell for more than a few thousand.

This work is so far outside of where Chuck has been for the last 35 years that doubt it will ever be considered relevant. There’s a story that chuck close tells students and people when he’s lecturing that when he met William deKooning that he shook his hand and said `finally I’ve met somebody who has painted more deKoonings  than I have.’ Enough said.” 

Meanwhile, I continued to sleuth. I started Googling and my heart sank further when I saw a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow that valued a 1960 Chuck Close student piece at $100,000 to $150,000!

To Be Continued…..

So Close (or, how I literally had a Cow)

July 16, 2016

Cow painting upside downFor me, this story doesn’t have a good ending. But it’s a really good story nonetheless. Please bear with me as I unfold this sad tale.

My father had a house full of stuff – lots of artwork, including valuable Northwest paintings, mixed with junk. When it was time to sell the house my brother and I spent two years going through the stuff to make sure we culled out the valuable pieces from the junk.

We thought we knew which paintings were valuable. My parents had done a good job teaching us about the artwork as we grew up. In fact, we spent many weekends going to art galleries. I could name the artists of all the major paintings and I knew the history behind many of the paintings – where they came from, when my parents purchased them, and the back stories that made the pieces interesting. To make sure we were being fair, my brother and I brought a well-known local art dealer to the house to give us values on all of the artwork so we could divide it among ourselves equally. He spent a couple of hours there looking at the works that we showed him and talking to my father, then age 92. We showed him all the artwork that we believed had value.

Then my brother and I went about our work dividing up the collection. He took one, I took one. We did this until we had divvied up all the paintings that we wanted. And we carefully noted the value so that we’d come out even in the end.

The paintings that neither of us wanted – about a third of the collection – were consigned to a local gallery that specialized in Northwest art. We trusted the dealer completely.

But there was plenty more to dispose of in the house where my father lived for 49 years. So we called in a well-known appraiser who also did estate sales. He and his team spent nearly a week in the house, going over everything and carefully pricing it. He advertised the sale and it held such promise that we had people camping in the driveway the night before so they could be the first in the house. The first people in line were brothers who owned an art auction house. They picked out a few key pieces that they knew they could auction.

Over the next three days, hundreds of people – collectors and looky-loos – traipsed through the house looking for treasures and bargains. We sold about 75 percent of what was there, including much of the artwork at what I considered to be good prices. We took what was left, boxed up some to send to an auction house (where you literally get pennies on the dollar) and eventually gave the rest away. Most went to the local thrift shop.

We did hold back a few things that were used by the stager who staged the house for sale. The house was a Mid-Century Modern, so he put in period furniture and artwork. He used two large paintings from my father’s collection – neither drew any interest from any of the people who had come through the house – to fill up significant wall space without making the house look cluttered.

One of those paintings had hung upside down over my father’s bed for about 40 years. It was a large unsigned bold abstract called “Cow,” which my father dismissed as a “student work,” something he had purchased in 1962 from a University of Washington art student (it’s pictured in the left hand corner of this post). He didn’t know who the student was. He liked the painting, but didn’t love it enough to hang it right-side up. He eventually replaced it with another student work that he purchased in Hawaii about five years ago. Cow was relegated to the basement painting stacks. At one point my sister-in-law considered taking it home, but turned it down when she learned it was a cow. I never cared for it – either the style or gaudy green and red color pallet.

After the house sold and the stager removed his furniture I took Cow to the local thrift shop. I hesitated for just a moment when I saw the index card taped to the back of the canvas. It said, “Cow” “1962” “Charles Close.”

I know of the famous painter Chuck Close and love his work (now being shown in an amazing exhibit at Everett’s Schack Art Center). But this painting looked nothing like the elaborate portraits Close is known for. His portraits are so accurate they look like photos. Others are comprised of hundreds of painted “mosaics” or fingerprints that turn into amazingly accurate portraits as one backs away from his paintings. Close, who was born in Monroe, Wash., and is now based in New York, is perhaps the most famous student to have graduated from the University of Washington. Not only is he an amazing painter, but he’s a quadriplegic, so he paints with a device attached to his paralyzed hand. His current works sell for millions of dollars.Close-Self-Portrait-1997

As I took the last of my father’s belongings to the thrift shop I felt a sense of relief. Two years of sorting through stuff had ended with the sale of his home to an appreciative family, one that would value the architecture and keep it from being torn down. What a happy end to this story. Right?

Unfortunately, not.

The house closed soon after it went on the market. Six months later I was sitting on my couch thumbing through a copy of one of the local high-gloss magazines when I saw a posting for a show at Seattle ArtREsource gallery of “reasonably priced” work featuring artists who attended or taught at the University of Washington. It included many of my favorites, including Jacob Lawrence and Chuck Close. I called up the gallery’s website on my smart phone and started scrolling through the artists. I clicked on Chuck Close and …. nearly had a heart attack! There, staring me in the face was Cow! It was right side up in all its burnt red and green glory.

To Be Continued…..

My family’s dramatic journey through three continents to escape the Holocaust

March 12, 2016

A_Hug_From_Afar-7x10_COVER_FRONT - 2-23-16 - finalGrowing up, I had heard the story about my mother and her family coming from the Island of Rhodes to Seattle. I heard how the family felt indebted to their Uncle Ralph and Aunty Rachel for helping them get here. I listened to my mother speak Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) to her mother and Aunt Esther on the phone each day. I understood some of the Spanish-like language, but didn’t really think anything of it.

I took the whole thing for granted.

But now, 70 years after my mother stepped foot into the United States for the first time, I no longer take this story for granted. I recognize how hard it was for the family to get here. I realize what a tough person my mother was to make it happen. I realize that immigration wasn’t easy or simple then – just like it’s not easy or simple today. And I realize what an incredible story this is, a story that I felt compelled to tell in my new book, “A Hug From Afar: One Family’s dramatic journey through three continents to escape the Holocaust.”

It’s now available on Amazon. I hope you’ll indulge me by reading more about it in this news release. If you like what you see, I hope you’ll get the book to learn this important piece of history. You can also “like” my A Hug From Afar Facebook page.



BELLEVUE, Wash. (March 1, 2016) – From the young age of 9 on the Aegean island of Rhodes, Clara Barkey started writing to her uncle Ralph and aunty Rachel Capeluto in the far-away place known as Seattle, Wash. This smart and determined young woman, who was always at or near the top of her class, used the dying language of Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, to report news of the relatives Ralph left behind on Rhodes and the happenings of her Sephardic Jewish community. But what started as friendly letters quickly turned to desperate pleas for help as life for the Jews of Rhodes deteriorated under the control of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who allied with Adolph Hitler.

Forgotten and never thought of again, Clara’s letters turned up more than 60 years after they were written and after she, Ralph and Rachel had passed away. Preserved and translated from Ladino into English, they paint a vivid and detailed 16-year story of how one family triumphed and survived after they became refugees and rode the roller coaster of successes and failures to legally win permission to immigrate to the United States.

This compelling story of perseverance, determination, love and grit is brought to life in A Hug From Afar, a historical narrative nonfiction memoir Seattle-area journalist and publicist Cynthia Flash Hemphill has edited and compiled based on the letters written by her mother Clara Barkey from 1930 to 1946.

“A Hug from Afar reads like a suspense novel–only it’s a true story. It feels as though it’s your family caught up in a tale of hope and fear, frustration and happiness. The family ties that reach across continents and over decades, and an American immigration bureaucracy working to make family reunification as difficult as possible, ” Paul Burstein, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science, and Stroum Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, wrote in his commentary on the book.

The book goes far beyond one family’s story. This compilation of rich primary source documents captures the history of the Sephardic Jews on the Island of Rhodes, descendants of Spanish Jews exiled during the Inquisition of 1492.

The book “gives voice to a now-lost Jewish community on the verge of annihilation, to a Jewish family seeking asylum, and to one young woman who initiated a thread of correspondence with relatives in the United States that would ultimately solidify her family’s escape from the Nazis,” writes Devin E. Naar, Isaac Alhadeff Professor in Sephardic Studies at the University of Washington, in a detailed and compelling foreword to the book.

“The story itself is not only captivating and powerful on its own, but is also of great historical and cultural significance,” Naar writes. “Too seldom do we have access to the perspectives of women in history, even fewer with regard to young women, and very few when it comes to the Sephardic Jewish world. While we know of Anne Frank and her diary, we have almost no sources composed by Sephardic Jewish girls or young women describing their experiences regarding the rise of fascism and the onset of the Second World War.”

The book uses 16 years worth of letters and official documents to take the reader through a detailed journey of exile, community annihilation, dashed hopes, and real-life drama seen through the eyes of a young woman forced to grow up too quickly as she desperately worked to save her family from Hitler’s efforts to destroy the Jews.

As she put this book together, Flash Hemphill came to understand that her mother’s story is far more than a family history. It offers a much broader lesson that needed to be preserved and made available to a wider audience.

“We are at a point in history now where we’re willing to hear the broader stories of the impact that the Holocaust had on so many people – not only those tragically killed in the death camps, but also the refugees and the lives and communities left behind. Most of these survivors are now gone. It’s important to really embrace the stories of the few who remain,” Flash Hemphill said.

“I hope readers of A Hug From Afar will not only learn about my family and the history of the Jews of Rhodes, but also will consider the many other themes this book offers. It centers on the topic of immigration of refugees, a hot subject as the world struggles over this important issue. It also shows the importance of why it’s important to preserve family histories, especially now that we have moved away from formal, hand-written letters to the instant and quickly discarded forms of today’s communication – e-mail, texts and tweets,” she said.

A Hug From Afar, by Claire Barkey Flash, edited and compiled by Cynthia Flash Hemphill, translated by Morris Barkey, is available to purchase in print and e-book form at and through Createspace. “Like” the book and learn more about it at

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