When Edie Jarolim had to resign from doing Pet Travel Thursdays here at A Traveler’s Library, she recommended Pamela Webster to pick up the reins. If you read Pamela’s feature on the movie about Parrots in San Francisco, I’m sure that you will thank Edie for the excellent choice. I thought the readers of A Traveler’s Library might like to know a little more about Pamela, since she’s had a very interesting life and she agreed to answer a few questions.
A Traveler’s Library: I see that you studied for your undergraduate history degree in Europe. In what country? And was that when you started serious traveling in Europe?
Pamela Webster: Ambitious to graduate as quickly as possible and get on with my life… I left school a semester early but was a few credits short.
Fortunately I found a program that gave me six credits to study Renaissance and Reformation history while traveling through Europe. It was less expensive to study a semester in Europe than it was to stay in a dorm and take classes at my school. And somehow, a discussion of Savonarola’s view of the Renaissance was more stimulating in the Palazzo della Signoria where he had been burned at the stake than it would have been in a poorly lit lecture hall.
I wrote papers and attended lectures in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, England, and Scotland.
The cost of the class was kept down because we stayed in youth hostels and camped all over Europe. It led me to love cheap travel and camping. By the way, if you think camping is dreadful, try it in Europe. It just might change your mind. You won’t find many kid-friendly activities but nearly every campground has a pub.
ATL: There are plenty of jokes about the value of degrees in history (ranks right up there with philosophy as a practical major), but how on earth did you get from history major to nonprofit housing counselor?
PW: The instant I knew I loved history I also realized I’d never earn any money. Although professors over the years suggested I apply to law school or pursue an academic career, I feared that taking such a path might put me in risk of someday earning an adult’s income.
So instead, I worked at the nonprofit Presbyterian Historical Society and eventually became managing editor of the Journal of Presbyterian History. I also did a short stint at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (another nonprofit) coordinating their rights and reproductions.
The great thing about working in historical archives is that they have very strict security and you can’t work late hours. That left me plenty of time to volunteer in the struggling Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood where my husband and I had bought a duplex.
I joined the neighborhood association to help address the vacant buildings, slum landlords, and drug sales that were threatening the neighborhood. After a drug-related shooting involving the other side of my duplex, we bought the attached house at a tax-foreclosure sale and developed a complex equity sharing agreement with a local artist to make the neglected house a home.
A few years later when I moved to Ithaca, I was attracted to the local nonprofit that had helped to transform Ithaca’s housing stock over its 30 year history. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services hired me to be their housing counselor based on my volunteer experience in Philadelphia and provided lots of training to turn me into a professional.
ATL: You are a naturally excellent writer. Where did writing come into your life?
PW: Thank you, Vera.
I’ve enjoyed journal writing since I was a child. I have dozens of notebooks I’ve filled over the years.
Attending a fundamentalist school run by my childhood church for a couple of years put me out of sync with the mainstream school curriculum when I returned to public school. As a result, I have huge gaps in my knowledge of grammar and syntax. I mostly write by ear.
Fortunately, my husband is a good writer and even better editor and he helps me through the rough spots when I become tone deaf.
I briefly ran journal writing workshops to encourage others to learn confidence and to feel relaxed while writing. Being an example for others grew my own confidence and the rest is just practice. I write nearly every day for at least one of my two blogs: Something Wagging This Way Comes or Hands on Home Buyer.
ATL: Presumably you were not traveling with a pet when you were in college, so how is travel different now that you have Honey, a golden retriever, in your family?
PW: Although we had occasional pets when I was a child, my family didn’t think of them as members of the family and would never consider taking an animal on vacation. I, however, found my first dog an especially sympathetic companion and I’ve never forgotten him.
After getting married and buying a house, my next adult move was to look for a dog to adopt. We found mixed-breed litter mates at the Philadelphia SPCA and named them Agatha and Christie. Or, as the children in our neighborhood called them, “Africa” and Christie.
Having dogs led me to explore activities I had never done as a child because they were fun to do while traveling with pets—kayaking, camping, hiking etc.
After Agatha and Christie passed, we adopted Shadow. Each one of these dogs had been a fabulous traveler. But they didn’t care too much for other people and dogs, so we were limited in where we could go.
When Shadow passed, I decided I wanted my next dog to be as good at traveling as Agatha, Christie, and Shadow, but also more comfortable around strangers of all species. So I found Honey, a Golden Retriever. Since I raised her from a puppy, I was able to socialize her to be comfortable with many types of people and situations and her natural Golden Retriever charm covered the rest.
Now, in addition to hiking, camping, and kayaking, we’ve taken Honey to outdoor festivals, concerts, and restaurants with pet-friendly outdoor seating. She’s happy to go anywhere with us that she’s guaranteed to make new canine and human friends.
ATL: What is your next destination (with or without dog)?
PW: on an austerity plan right now with dreams of someday sailing off to find the horizon, so our immediate travel will be close to home. It’s a small price to pay for the future freedom of going wherever our boat, our skills, and our courage can take us.
I will, however, be traveling to Salt Lake City alone to speak at the Blog Paws social media conference and look forward to exploring that beautiful city.
And I’m excited about returning to the beautiful historic town of Cape May, NJ . It’s hard to beat a beach where you’ll find yourself closer to the dolphins in the sea than the nearest sunbather.
And no, I’m not going to share my favorite, deserted Cape May beach. Well, maybe if you ask really nicely.
ATL: What’s on your TBR pile?
PW: I am usually in the middle of about three books at any given time. I’m currently reading The Cruising Life by Tim Trefethen, an opinionated book of advice for potential sailing voyagers and the excellent Driving by Moonlight by Kristin Henderson which I plan to review someday for A Traveler’s Library
After seeing a few episodes of the show based on her novel, I’m looking forward to reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. And as soon as it returns to the library shelves, I plan to start David Agus’s The End of Illness. Of course, who knows what else will have caught my attention by then?
Pamela, thanks for filling us in on some things about you that we won’t find out as we read Something Wagging This Way Comes and Pet Travel Thursdays each month at A Traveler’s Library. I’m looking forward to all the pet travel books and movies you will be bringing us each month.
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Photographs here (except Pamela and Honey’s portrait) come from Flickr and are used under Creative Commons license. You can click on the picture to learn more about the photographer.