The Getty Center, Los Angeles

What an AMAZING place!

As I write this, I’m on the last leg of a two-week journey along the West coast of the U.S. We started in Seattle, Washington, and took highways 1 and 101 all the way down to San Clemente, California, just south of Los Angeles. Now we’re taking a train back.

It’s been a wonderful trip, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the next month. But as I’m rocking back and forth on this train, facing backward, it strikes me that this is the perfect time to reflect on the trip, and because of that I’m picking one of the highlights which can stand alone and be taken out of chronological order without confusion. Specifically, our visit to the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

I can say with a certain level of confidence that I’ve been to about a hundred art museums in my lifetime, and the Getty Center is now one of my very favorites. (Right up there with the Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida; the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain; and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.)

The Getty, in particular, has so much great art that you could spend days there and still not see everything. Knowing that our time was limited, we focused on painting, sculpture, and furniture, as well as taking in the spectacular city views. There is also a lot of amazing photography and architecture and gardens and fascinating exhibits that I would dearly love to have examined in more detail, but sacrifices had to be made.

I particularly loved the impressionists. I was blown away by the fact that I was looking at work by Gauguin, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, van Gogh…

Wait a second! There it was! One of by favorite paintings of all time, Irises by Vincent van Gogh. I was standing right beside it! That nearly brought me to tears. Photos have never done this work justice. The brush strokes… my God.

Being right there, looking at this amazing work of art with my own eyes, is something I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

The whole place was unforgettable, really, and in this modern age of cell phone cameras, you’re actually allowed to take photographs in many art galleries, including this one. So what follows, dear reader, are some of the works I had the honor of seeing during my visit. These are but a few. I took hundreds of pictures. I was just so overwhelmed and moved.

As you look at them, think of the talent involved. The brush strokes. The perspective. The way hard and/or flat mediums can be made to look soft or distant or imply motion or emotion. These artists create life from the inanimate. That’s impressive. I particularly enjoy it when humor is involved.

These are some of the highlights. If you are ever in L.A, make a point of visiting the Getty Center. My words don’t suffice, so I hope you enjoy the photos!

Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book!


Painting Flower Pots

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be artistic.

Every once in a while, I have this powerful urge to get creative. I suspect it’s the same feeling that animals get when it’s time to migrate for the winter. It’s not an option. It’s a compulsion.

But as we’re in the throes of a pandemic, I didn’t want to run out to an art supply store to get materials. That made me cast about in the yard and garage to see what was already on hand. That added an additional layer of creativity to the project.

We have a lot of (perhaps too many) mostly used cans of paint in a wide variety of colors sitting around, taking up space. I also happened to have a bunch of empty terra cotta pots in my greenhouse. So I thought, why not? What you see below is the result of my handiwork.

Okay, I never said I was Van Gogh. But it was a fun few hours, and now when I see these pots it makes me smile. I even went a little wild and tried gluing glass beads on one, as you can see. While it looked good on the day I took this picture, it didn’t hold up well. I guess the moisture and drying qualities of terra cotta do not make for a good gluing surface. Lesson learned.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be artistic. You just need to look at what you have available in a different way. Use your imagination. Have fun. Satisfy that compulsion.

Teracotta pots

Do you enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book!

Finely (Finally) Finished Fun

It took a pandemic to get us off our behinds.

We had never liked the bedroom wallpaper, with its stripes and flowers, hearkening back to the 1950’s. But it had come with the house, and it didn’t seem like a high enough priority to bother with. Home ownership comes with a never-ending list of projects, and this particular one kept getting pushed back behind more pressing ones.

But then one day about a year ago, we couldn’t take it anymore, and peeled off a loose bit of wallpaper. It was our way of committing to this undertaking. Surely neither of us would be able to tolerate a wall with a ripped out spot for long.

Months passed.

Then, in August of 2019, we started removing the wallpaper in earnest. This is not a job for sissies. It takes a lot of effort to remove this sticky, clinging stuff from any surface, let alone a slightly bumpy one. We had to buy special equipment to score holes in it, and a special liquid to loosen the glue, and then we had to slough this muck off the walls. Yuck. I’ll never have wallpaper again, if it’s up to me.

Bedroom Wall 1

So anyway, then we had a blank, white wall, with areas that we patched quite expertly, if I do say so myself. But we didn’t want to stop there. We had plans for this wall. It was to be a unique work of art. No one else in the world would go to sleep or wake up to a wall such as this. It was time to get creative.

And yet we didn’t. Another 6 weeks passed. Then we finally got some orange paint, called “heirloom tomato”, and some white paint to mix in for variety, and we painted the sunset. I was so proud of that sunset, with its variations in color!

We stared at that sunset, hovering over a white lower wall, for another 6 weeks.

Then, in November, a very artistic friend of ours came along, and after we showed him a picture of what we planned to loosely base our mural on, he helped us out by penciling it in on the wall, and showing us how to tape off the various sections. He then demonstrated how to paint, using a variety of colors on a palette, and he painted the topmost row of mountains for us. (Thanks, Mike!)

That row of mountains, floating all alone, with the sunset above and the taped areas below, were what we went to bed to every night for another 5 months. I began to despair that we’d never get around to it once spring rolled around, because we like to get out and enjoy the sunshine and the wonderful weather.

It took a quarantine and its attendant suffocating boredom to get us off our behinds. My husband tackled the rows of mountains, and some of the photos below show the amazing detail in each one. I did the lake, with glittery turquoise paint which these photos don’t do justice. And I added more detail to the sky.

So there you have it. The project took about a year to complete, but we love how it turned out. And it really was fun, when we weren’t actively procrastinating. Now that it’s done, we can’t imagine how we lived without it for so long.

It took a pandemic, but we’re finished. Finally. Finely. Now we get to figure out what to do next.

Bedroom wall 6

Hey! Look what I wrote!

Salvator Mundi Indeed

So, yeah, this happened: Some anonymous person paid 450 million for Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. A painting of Jesus, Savior of the World. How outraged he would have been.

To put it in context, that’s more than the annual gross domestic product of Tonga, Micronesia, Palau and Kiribati. If it were francs, that would be more than the value of all the Jewish property confiscated in France during World War II. Just one of the World Trade Center towers, if it were still standing, would weigh 450 million kilograms. The average American will earn less than 0.25 percent of that in his or her lifetime. That many years ago, the earth was seeing the first transition from vegetable to animal life.

But here’s the statistic that upsets me the most. For 1/5th of that price, we could entirely eliminate homelessness in America. Which means we could eliminate it here, and in probably a dozen third world countries as well.

Instead, some anonymous person bought a painting. 468 square inches of canvas. That’s $961,538.46 per square inch, on a planet where 795 million people are starving, 21.3 million are refugees and half of Puerto Rico is still in the dark. If there is a hell, this person should go there.

Any civilization that allows this level of income inequality is circling the drain. There is absolutely no justification for this, and I’m saying this as a person who thinks the arts should be supported. There are limits. Or there should be. When the world deteriorates to this level, we certainly could use a savior.

The only thing that would make this situation more outrageous and insane would be if it had been a painting of Jesus expelling the money changers from the temple.

Salvator Mundi

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

The Pansy Connection

“Is there anything of mine that you’d like when I die? Tell me now, so I can make note of it,” my sister said.

(Not that she’s going anywhere anytime soon, I hope, but yeah, it never hurts to have all your funerial ducks in a row.)

“Just the pansy picture,” I replied.

“As a matter of fact, I have a housewarming gift for you,” my sister said, handing me a package.


When I unwrapped the present, it was the pansy picture! I had coveted it since childhood, but being the youngest, I never thought it would be mine. Sisters connecting. I flew home to Seattle with it sitting on my lap, encased in bubble wrap for safe keeping. If it could talk, it would have quite a tale to tell.

That painting has been a part of my family since long before I was born. My grandmother, Helga Schon, brought it over from Denmark around 1916, when she was 24 years old. She taught herself English on the way over, using the Saturday Evening Post, newspapers, and a Danish/English dictionary. Her husband, my grandfather, insisted that his family would speak English. We would be Americans.

Helga came through Ellis Island with only 10 dollars in her pocket. My grandfather arranged for her to be met by a Danish minister in New York. He arrived soon after, and they started a family. Through it all, this pansy picture bore witness.

Imagine. My grandmother moved 3845 miles away from home, away from everything she had ever known, to a place she’d never been, where she knew no one. I can sort of relate to that, because I moved 3100 miles from Florida to Seattle a few years ago. I knew no one, and had never been here before. And it was scary. I can’t imagine adding additional layers of complexity to the mix, such as knowing you’d probably never see your loved ones or hear their voices again, and barely speaking the language. She was brave. I have cell phones and e-mail and skype to stay connected. She may as well have been jumping off a cliff into a bottomless pit.

But the story gets even more poignant. My cousin once sent us a ton of old family photos, and my sister mentioned that in the background of one is another pansy painting, almost identical to ours, but not quite. If you zoom in on it, you’ll see that each one has a few differences, the most obvious being the fact that they both have a different number of fallen petals. (I love that these pansies are in typical Danish copper pots, because that is another thing that has been passed down to me. My grandmother’s copper pot sits proudly on my mantelpiece.)


So the question became, where is the second pansy picture now? I asked my cousin about the photo in question. She’s the family’s history expert. She felt that the photo may have been taken at the house of my grandmother’s sister, Else, who lived in Copenhagen until she died. She never had any children. They also had a brother, Paul Petersen, who lived near Birkerød, who apparently did have children, so maybe one of them has the painting now.

The third photo from the left below the pansy is my great grandmother, Sophie Dorothea Nielsen. My mother shares Sophie’s middle name. Grandma loved her very much, and never saw her again after coming to America. That must have been particularly hard for her, because shortly after she got here, she had her first child, Henry, but he died within a few weeks. She had to cope with that in a foreign land without her family. She went on to have 4 more children, including my mother, but my grandfather died during WWII, when my mother was only 17 years old. The family was pretty much destitute for many years after that.

Helga did visit Denmark one last time in the 50’s, but her mother was long gone by then. She did see her sister. I’m sure she also saw that second pansy painting and mentioned that she still had hers, too. Sisters connecting.

Did they know the artist? (The signature seems to say Ayn Kras, but nothing pops up on Google.) Did the family buy these paintings at a festival as a remembrance of a wonderful day? Did they get them just before Helga boarded the ship, as a way to feel connected? We’ll probably never know, now. My grandmother died when I was 8. She was 80.

I think my grandmother would be amazed to know that her painting has been from Copenhagen to New York to Pittsburgh to Portland to Connecticut to Florida to Georgia to Washington State. That’s approximately 15,000 miles, or the equivalent of more than half of the way around the planet at the equator.

Somewhere in Denmark is a pansy painting hanging on a distant relative’s wall. That branch of the family has probably forgotten that it even has a twin. As for the one that made it across the Atlantic and across America and has witnessed births and deaths and wars and sacrifices, it now hangs proudly over my bed. I like to think that it watches over me while I sleep, as it has watched over my family for generations.

I wrote this to demonstrate that immigration (and art) provides us with a richly-woven historical tapestry. It connects us to the wider world. We are much the better for it.


An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

Yours Truly: A Patron of the Arts

Many months ago I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk just below my drawbridge tower. She was staring up at it and taking notes. I thought it was kind of strange, but it is a free country, after all. (At least, as of this writing.)

But then she showed up again the next day and curiosity got the better of me. So I opened the tower window and said hello to her. It turned out she was making a sketch in advance of doing a painting of my tower. This got me excited, because I do take pride in my drawbridge. I told her I’d love to see the painting when it was done.

Several months passed and I didn’t see her again. I figured she’d forgotten about me. I was kicking myself for not getting her contact information.

Then a funny thing happened. I went to a storytelling party at a friend’s house and she was there. We didn’t recognize each other until I mentioned my bridge and she mentioned someone calling to her out the window while she was sketching, and I told her that was me. This is a big city, but it’s still a small world.

After that, she e-mailed me photos of the painting as it progressed. And just recently I purchased the finished version. (I paid for it, in part, by giving her a copy of my book.) So, without further ado, here’s the painting of University Bridge here in Seattle, by Arvia Morris.


I love this painting. It has a great deal of personal meaning for me, of course. It’s also the first painting I’ve ever purchased. If I get a chance to publish an anthology of my drawbridge stories, I plan to use this painting on the book cover.

Arvia also did a larger, very gorgeous painting of the entire span of the University Bridge as seen from the water. I’d dearly love to have it, but I can’t afford it. I hope it finds a good home with someone who truly appreciates it.

I’ve always wanted to take painting lessons, but it’s a very expensive skill to acquire. Maybe some day. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to be a patron of the arts!


My book is my art. Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too!

Bureaucratic Humor

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love Google Doodles. They show that Google has a sense of humor and the confidence to mess with their own logo without thinking the world will come to an end. That almost makes me feel that corporations are human beings after all, as the Supreme Court ruled. Almost.

Other large entities would do well to take note of this. I’ve noticed that this type of bureaucratic humor is common here in Seattle. That “we’re all in this together” mentality makes me feel very warm toward this community.

Take, for example, the Seattle Department of Transportation. Yes, they’re my boss, but even if they weren’t, I’d be impressed by them. We are currently in the midst of a year-long painting project of the Fremont Bridge. This is causing obstructions and inconvenience for the residents of this neighborhood, but it has to be done. Now, they could have been rigid and humorless about the situation, and created an us vs. them mindset in the public, but instead they have posted these signs:

 IMG_0326 IMG_0315 IMG_0316 IMG_0324

This really makes me feel good about being a part of this organization.

Maybe if AT&T and the US Post Office and the IRS adopted a sense of humor and humanity they wouldn’t be so universally disliked. But it takes courage. To do it, you have to take a step away from your safe, conservative little hidey-hole and take a risk. You have to be creative. We can’t have that, now, can we?

A Photographic Mistake

Sometimes I am my own science experiment. Yesterday I got about 3 hours of sleep. And between getting off work at 8 a.m., getting the oil changed in my car, then waiting for the glass guy to come and replace my windshield, plus various unwanted phone calls, and my dog who decided to vomit all over my landlady’s plush carpet, those three hours weren’t even consecutive.

Then I went back to work at midnight without even being able to remember the drive. Finally I’m home again, but I’m seeing things out of the corners of my eyes that aren’t there, and I hope you’ll forgive me, but my mind is in such a fog that I can’t think of anything to write.

So I’ll leave you with this picture which I took entirely by accident. I was driving away from a camping trip to Chaco Canyon and there was this gorgeous sunset. I was on a busy highway and there was no way to stop, so I decided to take the picture on the fly. Little did I know I had the lens open for an extended period, so it came out like an impressionist painting. This photo, which was a complete mistake, is one of my all-time favorites. Nature provides the most colorful of palettes.             Hope you like it.


Now I’m preparing for bed, but I seem to have gotten a most unwelcome second wind, so I shall eat comfort food, then lie here with a towel over my eyes to block out the light, and bitterly weep as only one who understands profound exhaustion can.