Valentine’s Day is near and dear to Pamela Gregory’s heart.
This Napan so appreciates the tradition of mailing sweet wishes that she organized a valentine exchange for anyone who’d like to give –- and receive — a heartfelt greeting in honor of Feb. 14.
Called Aunt Pammy’s Valentine’s Exchange, Gregory started the swap several years ago after hearing about another such exchange.
“Oh, this is my thing,” Gregory said. In addition to teaching an after-school drama program, she’s also a self-taught artist who makes mosaics, original prints and other artworks.
But besides a chance to get crafty, “the idea of a valentine exchange kind of breathes new life into Valentine’s Day,” said Gregory.
“You can shift it from being this all-out ‘romantic holiday’” that only couples indulge in to something that recalls elementary school memories and the child-like enthusiasm of getting a valentine in the mail.
With such an exchange, “You’re getting to participate in a holiday you might have though was not for you anymore,” or that you haven’t done in a long time. In other words, you don’t have to age-out of Valentine’s Day.
Gregory’s valentine’s swap is simple. Using an online form, each valentine sender signed up to send a selected number of valentines – from one on up — through the U.S. mail. Each person then receives the same amount of valentines in the mail in return.
Aunt Pammy’s Valentine’s Exchange was launched four years ago. Last year, about 40 people mailed cards. This year, Gregory posted the swap on Facebook and community website Nextdoor and 81 people jumped on board.
Most are women, but about five men signed up as well, including Gregory’s husband, she said. The exchange is closed for this year, but will reopen again in January 2019, said Gregory.
About one-third of this year’s valentine senders are from Napa and the rest are located all over the U.S. There’s even one valentine sender from Australia, she said.
In total, 891 valentines will be traded.
“I was pretty blown away,” Gregory said. “I was really happy that it was successful at such a big level.” Some valentine senders are so into the event they’re leaving additional messages on the group’s Facebook page to arrange additional trades on the side.
Gregory hand made and hand printed her own valentines. After carving her design — in reverse — into a piece of rubber-like printing block, she then used a paint roller-like device called a brayer to roll ink on the block. Then Gregory carefully pressed a piece of cardstock onto the image and peeled it off to let it dry.
This year, she’s using blue tones.
“I wanted to do an untraditional color, something that wasn’t expected,” as a surprise, she said. That way, the card, a piece of original art, could have a life beyond Valentine’s Day.
She made 81 valentines — one for each person in the group.
Others are also making handmade cards, but that’s not a requirement, Gregory said.
“Some people just send a normal piece of construction paper folded in half,” decorated with stickers or a store-bought valentine, she said.
“It’s not a competition,” she said. “We just want to do something fun. That’s the beauty of it.”
The “Golden Years” can be challenging. You may find yourself free from the daily grind of work and parenting, but you’re likely also dealing with increased financial pressure and health problems.
But if you are a member of the LGBT community, these challenges, particularly isolation, can be magnified.
There is a place where seniors from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Napa can get together regularly for socializing and mutual support.
“After working with LGBT youth for many years, I realized you can feel vulnerable at any age,” director and facilitator Ian Stanley Posadas said. “We didn’t want this to be just a sad support group; it’s a place for LGBT seniors to come and share their experiences and have lively discussions in a welcoming environment.”
The group, called the LGBT Connection, meets the first Tuesday of every month from 10:15 a.m.-noon. Since its founding in 2012, it has grown to about 20 members.
Ann Schwartz, 76, said isolation was one of things that brought her and her wife to the group.
“I moved back to Napa in 1971. And since then, people we knew socially have died or moved away, or just sort of dropped out. This group was a way to reach out and see who was around in Napa,” she said.
“At one time, 25 years ago or so, the LGBT community in Napa was fairly large and vibrant,” she said, “But it has dwindled away to not very many people. So we were looking for a group of like-minded people, and I have to say, we certainly found it.”
Michael Muir, 65, has been a member since the group’s inception.
“I met Ian at a community forum and I was really impressed with how big the umbrella of his vision was,” Muir said. “He wanted a place that was inclusive of every conceivable shade of the rainbow, and involve us all.
Muir said he used to live in Berkeley and was involved in the Pacific Center for Human Growth, an LGBT community center.
“I felt we needed a place like this here,” he said. “Ian told me he was going to start a senior group in Napa and I told him I wasn’t sure if I was a senior citizen yet — We just decided if you thought you were a senior that was good enough.”
Muir said he hadn’t planned to stick with the group for long, “but now I look forward to it every month. I’ve made friends there and I really feel like I’m a part of something.”
Krystalargo de Lindachrist, 81, joined the group about six months ago.
“I had been searching for several years and I picked up a flyer talking about this senior group,” she said. “I am a bisexual and it’s a very difficult thing to find people who are bisexual because they are tremendously hidden within the population, both females and males.”
De Lindachrist said she moved to Napa about eight years ago “and I needed a place where I could really be me. So this group has filled a huge hole in my social existence and emotional health. But I still haven’t run into anyone who identifies themselves as bisexual.”
Discrimination is still a very real thing, even in Napa, according to Stanley Posadas.
“Imagine if you worry whether the person you are sharing a house with, or renting from, is going to be OK with your identity,” he said.
And having a place to discuss their identity openly is particularly hard for older people.
“Our seniors grew up in a time when homosexuality was a crime and considered a mental illness,” he said. “So, sometimes our seniors are dealing with people in terms of their finances, or medical care, or housing, and those old practices of keeping a part of yourself private for safety’s sake come back.”
“I think the whole ‘coming out’ business takes some doing in our age group … One of the parts of this group that is so good is you can talk to other people who are LGBT who are willing to listen,” she said. “And when you are talking and sharing with other LGBT people, you don’t have to translate. There are words we can say and everyone at the table understands. So I don’t have to filter what I have to say and everyone can share their life experiences without worrying about it.”
That reaction is typical of people in the group, Stanley Posadas said.
“LGBT people in general, seniors in particular, are more disconnected from the mainstream but also from each other,” he said. “This group is the antidote for that. We had a senior living at the Veterans home that said he would rather die alone than have it be known he was gay. We’ve had folks in nursing homes who were gay; children would visit and then the nursing staff would say anti-gay things when they left. Here, you can feel safe, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable. Even if you’re not out of the closet, this is a safe place for you.”
The group is dedicated to confidentiality, so they can discuss their feelings, challenges and identity openly.
“We aren’t afraid to lay our cards on the table here,” said Muir.
“What gets talked about here, doesn’t go anywhere,” agreed Schwartz. “If you don’t want anyone to know you’re doing this, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Because isolation and loneliness are such a big issue for LGBT seniors, members say, they wish they could meet even more often than they do. Besides talking about serious issues, they try to have fun too.
“Our group is lively and fun,” Stanley Posadas said, “We watch films, have snacks and refreshments, and if people want to meet outside the group during the week, we welcome that.”
Members of the LGBT community in Napa are welcome to join and can get more information by calling Stanley Posadas at 251-9432, or visiting their website: LGBTQconnection.org.
“Even if you’re not out of the closet, this is a safe place for you,” Stanley Posadas said.
Members agree that it’s a safe and welcoming environment. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” said Muir with a laugh.
A Napa County Superior Court judge on Tuesday issued a written tentative ruling favoring Napa County’s approval of the controversial Walt Ranch vineyard project.
That’s not the end of the case, though. Judge Thomas Warriner later heard oral arguments from the various parties and the tentative ruling need not match the yet-to-be-announced final ruling.
But the onus is on opponents to change the judge’s mind. Much of the hearing centered on Walt Ranch opponents’ claims that county environmental studies on such complex issues as groundwater are inadequate under state law.
“The court’s role is to do quality control,” Warriner said at one point.
Walt Ranch is to be 209 acres of vineyard blocks on 2,300 acres in the hills between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa. Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wines in St. Helena are leaders in the project.
The proposal became a flashpoint in growth wars about vineyard development in the county’s mountainous watershed areas. Dozens of people in 2015 and 2016 attended county hearings that went on for hours, holding signs saying such things as “No to soil erosion” and “Halt Walt.”
Napa County approved the Walt Ranch project in 2016 and the issue moved from the Board of Supervisors room to the courtroom. Living Rivers Council, Circle Oaks County Water District and – in a single lawsuit — the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued to overturn the decision.
On Tuesday, attorneys for the opposition began making their oral arguments as to why the tentative decision favoring Napa County shouldn’t stand.
Most of the arguments were technical. The goal was to poke holes in a county environmental impact report that found potential adverse effects from Walt Ranch could, with certain steps, be rendered “less than significant.”
Opponents challenged the idea that deep ripping the soil – breaking up the rocks – would permanently make the soil more permeable in vineyards, leading to less rainwater runoff. They brought up the issue of drifting pesticides hurting rare species of frogs.
For example, Living Rivers Council attorney Thomas Lippe said the environmental studies failed to look at such pesticide drift issues as the life cycles of the species and when pesticides will be applied.
“You have no analysis of how bad the problem might be,” he said.
Circle Oaks attorney Rachel Mansfield-Howlett focused on whether groundwater use by Walt Ranch would hurt well water supplies for the adjacent, rural Circle Oaks community. She said the community has insufficient protections should a problem arise.
Attorney Whit Manley parried opponents’ claims on behalf of the county and Walt Ranch. He talked about a study done on a 2006 vineyard already at Walt Ranch to verify that deep ripping had permanently changed the soil profile.
“The notion that somehow the county wasn’t responsive to this concern is incorrect,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing lasted from about 9:30 a.m. to noon, with a break. Then Warriner said the next hearing will be at 1 p.m. on March 1.
Attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club should speak at that time. Among other things, the groups have argued that the Walt Ranch site can legally have 35 estate homes and that the environmental impact report should have considered the possibility.
But the four-page tentative ruling finds the opponents’ arguments unpersuasive. It denies the requests that the court order the county to decertify the Walt Ranch environmental impact report and vacate the Walt Ranch approvals.
Whether that will be the final word remains to be seen.