10 Day Album Challenge #6: Portishead, Dummy

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!


Hanging out on the tail end of the pop culture bell curve as I have always done, I’m just now hearing about the musical genre called “trip hop”, even though it was a thing back in the 90’s. It turns out that I’ve heard quite a bit of trip hop since then (you probably have, too), and I’ve always liked it. I just never thought to pigeon hole it into its own genre.

Trip hop is definitely in a class by itself. It’s psychedelic, it’s got a bass beat, it’s electronic, it’s got a beat box hip hop vibe. It has a funky soul. It brings out a mood in me like no other type of music does.

Now that I know what trip hop is, I have to say that by far my favorite trip hop album is Dummy, by a band called Portishead. You can listen to the entire album on Youtube, and I highly recommend that you do. But if you only have time to listen to one song, make it Glory Box. That’s my favorite, and it will give you a strong sense of the sound.

When I talk about this album (and now, this genre), I often rely on descriptions of how it makes me feel. It’s like being transported to some hip coffee shop where everyone, you’re absolutely sure, is much cooler than you are. It’s like being extremely tired, but not wanting to go to sleep because you’re having so much fun. It’s like being chemically altered in the best possible way. It’s like listening to music from the depths of a tin can. You hear every record scratch and pop, and that synthetic twisty bendy vibe you get from a really psychedelic horror movie sound track, and you know that all the sounds, individually, would probably irritate you, but together, man, they’re perfect. You feel like you’re experiencing musical vertigo, and that’s just fine.

Check out this album. Expect to be transported to someplace strange, but intriguing.

Portishead Dummy

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Mid Month Marvels: Old Dog Haven

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

For my first Mid-Month Marvel, I’ve decided to focus on one of my husband’s favorite organizations: Old Dog Haven. According to their website, “Old Dog Haven is a small nonprofit group using a large network of foster homes to provide a loving safe home for abandoned senior dogs in western Washington. When we have room and the means, we take these dogs into our homes. We adopt out those dogs with a reasonable life-expectancy. We care for the rest as members of the family in permanent foster homes (what we call “Final Refuge”) for as long as they have good quality of life. In addition, we try to assist owners in finding new homes for their senior dogs through our website and referrals.”

This amazing organization is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. They usually have about 330 dogs in their care, and these are dogs who are in their final years of life and deserve extra love and care. If left to regular shelters, their odds of being adopted would be very slim. And the stress and confusion of shelter life for these dogs would do more harm than good.

Old Dog Haven doesn’t have a kennel. All their dogs stay in loving homes. It’s all about quality of life without heroic measures. When an ODH dog is placed in a final refuge home, ODH pays for all veterinary care and medications. Their medical costs average 80k a month, so needless to say they appreciate donations as well as foster homes.

There are several ways you can help. You can adopt a dog, in which case they become yours and that includes their medical bills. You can become a Final Refuge for a dog, and ODH pays for all veterinary care and medications. You can make a one time donation, a monthly donation, or sponsor a dog. You can donate to the Maranda Fund to help pay for major surgeries. You can donate a vehicle. You can even leave a legacy in your will. You can also volunteer to be a foster parent, or transport the dogs, or participate in outreach events or fundraising.

When I asked my husband what he loves most about this organization, he said, “I love the knowledge that there’s an organization that values these dogs. Sometimes they are left behind when an owner dies, sometimes their health issues become too expensive for owners. This organization saves the dogs and covers their medical bills and what they need are open hearts, open minds, and open homes to give the love these dogs deserve. I’ve respected this organization for years and donated to them on many occasions. I was so pleased to discover that one of my first clients (that had dogs instead of kids) was a foster home for Old Dog Haven. Later on I was pleased to discover in the ODH newsletter that he had gone on to become a board member for them.”

Organizations such as Old Dog Haven reaffirm my faith in mankind. I hope you’ll join us in supporting them or places like theirs in your community.


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University of Alaska Museum of the North

Recently I experienced the second best museum I’ve ever seen in my life. I wrote about the best museum, Budapest’s House of Terror, here, and that one would be nearly impossible to beat, so calling this one the second best is nothing to sneeze at. It’s on the Fairbanks campus of the University of Alaska, and it’s called the Museum of the North.

There are so many stunning exhibits in this museum that I can only scratch the surface in this little blog post. It’s a natural history museum, an art gallery, and the ultimate place to learn about Alaska’s cultural diversity and unique history all rolled into one. I suspect I could go there every day for a month and still manage to learn something new.

You can see everything from taxidermy that really gives you a sense of what an overwhelming experience it would be to encounter a grizzly bear, to the most amazing fossils I’ve ever seen, including some mammoth tusks that were as big as I am. You can also gaze upon Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old mummified Steppe Bison. If not for his horrifying wounds, you’d half expect him to jump to his feet and charge, bellowing, through the museum and out into the tundra.

But one of the most profound experiences I had in the museum was in The Place Where You Go to Listen. To quote the website, it is “a unique sound and light environment created by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. This ever-changing musical ecosystem gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis.” The sound that I got to hear was haunting. Check out a few sound samples here.

If you ever get the chance to visit Fairbanks, and can only do one thing while there, I strongly urge you to check out University of Alaska Museum of the North. You’ll be glad you did.

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Let Me Solve Your Problem

I have this friend who is getting old and is convinced he’s going to die soon. He’s an artist, and he told me he wanted to distribute his art to the world before he makes his grand exit. He hates to think of it just sitting there, not being appreciated.

I instantly came up with an idea. I have been focused on my Little Free Library of late, and I’ve also blogged about Little Free Gardens. So, why not a Little Free Gallery? Construct a box, put it in an artsy/touristy part of town, fill it with your art, write on it, “Take some art, share some art” and away we go!

His art would be distributed, and other artists could put some of their stuff in as well. Even children could add their beautiful little scribbly contributions. Art for the common man. It sounds like a delightful idea to me! Visions of this really catching on and taking off.

Except I forgot who I was talking to. As much as I love this person, he doesn’t really want a solution. That would require action. He instantly threw up roadblocks, which I found easy to knock down.

Roadblock: I’m not really very sociable.

Solution: I could easily find you someone who would allow your little free gallery in front of their shop. Then all you’d have to do is put your art in there. You don’t have to sit by it.

Roadblock: I don’t need to get rich. I just need to spread my pictures to as many people as I can.

Solution: That’s why it’s called a Little FREE Gallery. You’d be giving your stuff away.

Roadblock: The library idea involves taking and putting back. A gallery wouldn’t be like that.

Solution: Who cares? But other artists could put their work in there too, if they wanted.

Roadblock: Still, it wouldn’t be sharing like a library is.

Solution: It would be sharing your artistic talent with the wider community. A lot of people love art, but most of us can’t afford it. This would be a great way to spread art to the world.

Roadblock: I like the idea of offering pictures at low prices without a store. Low price is important. Free stuff goes in the garbage can.

Frustrated response: Well, if there’s money involved, you’d need someone watching over it. And no one would give you a free space or a free box or contribute to it if it’s for money, so you’d have a much harder time.

Roadblock: I want someone who takes one of my pictures to take it seriously. If it’s a freebie, they can chuck it like a plastic bag.

Irritated response: You have to have faith. I also hope my library books actually get read, but there’s no guarantee. But if even one person reads something they wouldn’t have already read, I’m happy. Sometimes you just have to put positive energy out into the world and hope it makes an impact. You started off saying you just want to distribute your art to the world before you die. Now it sounds like you want to pursue profit. Those are different goals.

Roadblock: I’m an old guy who wants to get his work out in the world no matter what. I do not support schemes that have artists give out work for free. Artists need to make a living.

Resigned reponse: It’s not a scheme, it’s a public good. No artist would be forced to participate. It may be a fun way to put some small art works out there and get themselves some recognition. Oh, never mind.


I think what I need to take away from this conversation, the lesson that I need to learn (and will have to learn over and over and over again in my life), is that when someone presents me with a problem, they often aren’t really seeking advice. They’re just spewing words into the world with no real destination.The conversation should have gone like this:

Him: I want to get my art out into the world, no matter what.

Me: What a great idea. Good luck with that.

If I approached more conversations from that angle, I’d probably have fewer grey hairs and less acid reflux. But noooo…


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The Motives behind Graffiti

When I left work the other night, all was right with the world. When I came back 8 hours later, it was to this travesty:

I take pride in my drawbridge and in my city, so when people deface them in this heinous manner, it breaks my heart. This kind of wanton destruction, this desire to make things ugly, is beyond my comprehension. In an attempt to better understand the motivations behind graffiti in general, I did a lazy Google search on the subject and came up with dozens of articles, most of which seemed to occupy two distinct camps.

In the more positive camp, the best article I found was this one. It discusses the desire of those oppressed to express political opinions. It also gets into the longing for fame and popularity, and even gives an example of a tagger who then went on to collaborate with companies and thus became accepted by mainstream society. It talks also about graffiti as a form of self-expression that reveals a secret and thus draws the reader into the community by the simple act of sharing that secret. It then discusses graffiti as a form of positive affirmation. It only mentions gangs in passing, and finds it ironic that governmental authorities and most citizens see it as an anti-social activity. In conclusion the article says,

According to an ex-graffiti artist, one must understand his or her own motives and not create graffiti simply to destroy public space. An artist must have a clear motive, whether it is to communicate a social/political/religious message, to shock or amuse people, or merely to defy legal authorities.

Well, that certainly paints a pretty picture. Unfortunately, I don’t think the artists who chose my bridge as their palette had such a squeaky clean image. They were vandals, pure and simple. This article discussed this type of tagger.

It mentioned that “in the year 2000, vandalism accounted for $1.6 billion in damage to households alone” in this country. It says vandalism is one way that juveniles use to vent anger. It’s also a way to fit in and be accepted by a gang.

I think this ugly, incomprehensible crap on my bridge is gang related. It has no value and sends no message other than, “we can get away with destroying things.” It’s like dogs claiming territory by peeing on a fire hydrant. It’s an exercise in ignorance and rage, and I can’t wait until the city heeds my report and  comes out and gets rid of it.


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The Museum of Glass

If you ever find yourself in Tacoma, Washington, I highly recommend that you pay the Museum of Glass a visit. It’s been around since 2002, and it’s a place where you can experience all things glass. Its very existence revitalized that charming city.

I suggest that you approach the museum by crossing Chihuly’s Bridge of Glass. It’s an otherworldly riot of color that will leave you wondering how it could possibly be topped by the indoor exhibits. There’s the ceiling display called the Seaform Pavillion, then a wall of vase-like objects that are lit up at night, called the Venetian Wall, and then two large blue sculptures that can also be seen as you drive beneath them on the freeway, called the Crystal Towers.

The building itself is a tilted, stainless steel cone, and it’s fun to stand in front of it, tilted yourself, for a memorable selfie. (I’d show you ours, but I have a modest husband.)

Upon entering the building, check out the hot shop first. That way you can cool off afterward in the exhibit area, because to say that the hot shop is hot is an understatement. But there you can watch glass artists in front of the scorching hot ovens, honing their craft. It’s really magical to watch something transform from a baseball sized lump to a stunningly designed, extremely intricate vase. And there is always someone on hand who can answer your questions about each step of the process.

Glass Hotshop

Next I recommend that you take a peek down a glass fronted hallway called Art Alley, where the “Kids Design Glass” exhibit is. This is a delightful concept. Kids under 12 can go to the website and fill out a Kids Design Glass Entry Form. The entry includes the child’s drawing, and their own little story that inspires the drawing. Then, once a month, one entry is chosen, and the hot shop invites that child to watch them make two copies of the glass sculpture inspired by that drawing. One copy goes to the child, and the other one is put on display. What fun!

The museum often has workshops where you can experience glassmaking firsthand, and there are also docent-led tours of the exhibits, or you can explore them on your own. In addition, there’s a docent-guided Chihuly Walking Tour around downtown Tacoma on some days. And there are a lot of one-day events throughout the year. Check the website for days and times.

There’s a permanent Dale Chihuly exhibit, and a few rotating exhibits and short term exhibits.

I’m hesitant to tell you about the amazing exhibit we saw, entitled Raven and the Box of Daylight, because by the time you read this, it will be gone. It was based on a Tlingit story about Raven’s journey as he transforms the world, bringing light to the people via the stars, moon, and sun. It was otherworldly. You experience it through the glass, the story, the music and the lighting. I was a feast for the senses. I’m so glad that photography was allowed (see below), or it would have felt like it was all a dream.

And every good museum has a store. I wanted one of everything. But I’m trying not to accumulate stuff.

Check out the Museum of Glass. You’ll be so glad you did!

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A Different Perspective on Immigration

Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.

The majority of  Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.

This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.

Warsan Shire

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