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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Realtors — The Inside Scoop

People don’t give Realtors much thought unless they’re buying or selling a house. At least, I never did. And then I went and married one, so needless to say, I have some newfound insight on this particular career.

It’s a unique job that requires a unique skillset. 90% percent of the people who get their license do not renew it at the end of two years. And only 1% of Realtors make it to 25 years. My husband has been at it for16.5 years, so I’d say he’s at the upper end of the bell curve.

He also happens to love his job. That, of course, helps in any profession. But it’s a particular boon in this one, because it’s a challenging job to succeed at.

First of all, you only get paid if the sale is made. You might work with someone for months, and in the end walk away with nothing. Only half the people you work with result in a paycheck. A lot of the time it must feel like volunteer work. That would drive me insane.

Your paycheck isn’t steady. It’s either feast or famine, and that must make it difficult to pay your monthly bills. But my husband is quite good at long term planning and budgeting.

And then every time he does get a paycheck, he’s unemployed again. Much effort is expended in finding new clients. Fortunately he gets a lot of referrals from old clients, because they recognize how good he is at what he does.

He spends tons of time and money in continuing education, advertising, and marketing. So that big commission gets divided in a lot of ways. The profit margin is extremely slim, and it gets even more strained during an economic downturn.

He’s also never off the clock. He gets calls all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. If you want to do this job well, you have to strike while the iron is hot. And you never know when that will be.

People who go the “for sale by owner” route don’t realize how much they shortchange themselves. Realtors earn every penny they make. They increase your home’s exposure, they give advice in staging it so it looks desirable, and they are up to date on all the legal issues so you don’t make a horrible, expensive mistake. They are familiar with the market in the area so that you can be sure that your home is not priced too high or too low. They make sure all the t’s get crossed and all the i’s get dotted. They also have well known contacts in other parts of the industry so that you have a competent team on your side. When you try to go it alone, the real nightmare often comes when you forget to do something and it comes back to bite you after the sale is closed.

If you’re looking to buy a house, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right Realtor for you. The term Realtor is misunderstood by many. When people get their license from the Department of Licensing they are a real estate salesperson, aka Brokers. But only those that become members of the National Association of Realtors® are Realtors. Brokers don’t bother to correct people when they are mistakenly called a Realtor, but there is a higher standard and a Code of Ethics that Realtors adhere to. So don’t just pick some random person off the internet, or latch on to someone that you’ve only just met. Do your homework. Find someone who has worked in the field for several years, and knows your area well. Choose a someone who is a member of the NAR and who loves his or her job and will give you all the attention that you need.

The interesting thing about the job, the thing I would have never guessed, is that it’s really a helping profession. I think that’s what my husband loves best about it. You are helping people find a home that they can afford, and that they will love.

When he was helping me find my home, he spent a lot of time listening closely to what I was looking for. He quickly learned that it was important to me to have a big bathtub, a fireplace, and a dishwasher. On the other hand, I didn’t really care if I had a garage. But I did want off street parking (which is an important consideration in the Seattle area.) He figured out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses looked alike. I would have stuck out like a sore thumb in a gated community. Because he took the time to learn all those things about me, he was able show me listings in my price range that fit the person that I am. That counts for so much. No two people get the same image in their heads when you say the word home. My husband really understands that. A good Realtor always will.

Another thing that a good Realtor will do is tell you to walk away from a house that he knows is not right for you. My husband did that several times, even though he knew that would delay his getting a commission. That’s when I knew he was a keeper, professionally speaking.

He also understands that the house buying and house selling process is stressful as all get out. There were two points in my process where I had a complete meltdown. I’m learning that that’s not uncommon. Sometimes my husband takes on the role of counselor or bartender. He listens. He advises. He reassures.

He also enjoys getting to meet new people. He shows them that he’s honest and really has their best interests at heart. For a long time, he couldn’t figure out why he felt a slight let down after a sale. Shouldn’t he be feeling triumphant? But then he realized that his clients quickly become his friends, and he was going to miss seeing them every day. Many of them are still friends years later.

I think the best part, for him, is getting to be his own boss, and being able to work with good people, knowing that their success in this monumental life task will also be his own.

If you are buying or selling a house in the Seattle area, (basically from Everett to Tacoma), contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my husband. You won’t regret it. And if you are located in any other part of the country, he can also help you find a reliable Realtor in your area.

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My Recent Time Travel

The other night I got to hop off a bus and walk right into the year 1857. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d have the opportunity to write. And yet, there I was, in a world of candlelight and campfires, square dancing and samplers, blacksmiths and bartering.

Even more fascinating, I got to be a mere specter in this place. The people of 1857 did not see me. They didn’t even sense me. In fact, I had to move out of the way a few times to avoid being trampled by them. And I had been warned that they were going to live their lives as they always did. If they had to throw a bucket of slop out the door and I happened to be in the way, well… too bad for me.

And so, there I was, an invisible fly on the wall at Fort Nisqually. Eavesdropping and observing. What a fascinating night that was.

I happened to walk in during the preparations for the wedding of Letitia Work and fort clerk Edward Huggins. People came from miles around. Gentlemen and their wives, settlers, trappers, laborers, and cooks. All had a role in this event, whether it be a supporting one or a participating one. For many of them, their work continued on, but they were at least treated to a nice plate of food from the reception. Others came especially for the ceremony, wearing all their finery, and took the opportunity to discuss the news of the day with people they rarely had the opportunity to see. I was fascinated to note that politics were divisive and stressful even back then.

I got to wander through the forge, the factor’s house, the sale shop and the kitchen, and in and around the fort grounds, listening to over a hundred people who were going about their 1857 business in a world where there are no cell phones or electricity or social media. What an amazing experience.

The good news is, this time travel opportunity is available to you, too, as Fort Nisqually hosts these candlelight tours in early October each year. If you are in the Tacoma area, I highly recommend that you mark your calendars for next year, as the destination is 1859. You might even see me there, in ghost form.

Two Gentlemen of Fort Nisqually

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Exploring Washington State: Fort Nisqually

Nestled within what seems like forest primeval, but is actually Port Defiance Park in the City of Tacoma, is a fascinating fort that will take you back to the year 1855. Although only two of the buildings are original, the Granary and the Factor’s House, and it doesn’t look like much from outside the gates, once you enter you feel like you’re in another world.

The fort used to be located 15 miles south in what is now DuPont. It was moved to Tacoma in 1933, but the curators have done an amazing job to make this Hudson’s Bay Company fort historically accurate.

According to their website, Fort Nisqually was the first European settlement on Puget Sound. It thrived on the fur trade, and later on it produced crops and livestock for export. The Europeans and the Native Americans got on well. They worked together and intermarried. It wasn’t until the fort found itself on American soil and revenue agents and tax collectors started bugging them that things became hostile.

I absolutely love living history museums, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time. The interpreters in period clothing were very friendly and taught us a great deal about life in the fort, and there were some fascinating displays as well. There was even clothing that you could try on.

We had the opportunity to feel some actual beaver pelts, and from that I could finally see what all the fuss was about. It was amazing. And something I didn’t know was that top hats made from beaver at the time did not include the skin. It was the fur alone, made into a soft felt, that was used. It could last practically forever, so these hats were often passed down from father to son.

Despite the fact that it stopped being an actual working fort in 1869, there is a certain vibrance to the place. They still plant crops and raise chickens. They hold workshops to teach such things as butchering and curing, 19th century clothing construction, beekeeping, and basketry. They have summer camps. They have several events throughout the year, such as Queen Victoria’s Birthday, Brigade Encampment, Harvest Home, a Candlelight Tour and a Christmas Regale.

I am thrilled that I now know about this place, because I’m sure I’ll be back many times. I’ll leave you with some pictures from our visit.

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Used-to-Be-Mountains

Just about every day that I work on one of the drawbridges that crosses the Ship Canal here in Seattle, I open my bridge for a 2000 gross ton gravel barge. That’s a lot of gravel. If it were being transported by semi truck, that would be an average of 186 trucks per barge. Every day.

Island Chief Ballard

That had me wondering where this gravel was coming from, and where it was going. Well, the answer is, it comes from Dupont, Washington, which is south of Tacoma, and it is carried up to Kenmore, which is at the northernmost tip of Lake Washington.

There are several pits and quarries in the Dupont area. One is shown below. I’m amazed the entire region isn’t one massive hole, based on what I’ve seen float past my window.

When it arrives in Kenmore, it is taken to CalPortland, the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest. They make products such as ready mix concrete, corrugated pipe, assorted building materials and asphalt.

There’s no question that this region is booming, and I suppose that most would consider this a good thing, but I look at those barges with a certain level of despair. What I see is “used-to-be-mountains.” And according to this article in Science Alert, the world is actually facing a sand crisis that most of us haven’t even noticed.

When the world’s population increases, the need for building materials increases. But there’s only so much sand and gravel to go around. It’s getting so bad that organized crime groups are actually selling sand and gravel on the black market, and violence has  broken out over sand. Sand!

We take it for granted, because we walk down beaches and feel it between our toes, but sand is actually a limited resource along the lines of water. Without it, we will see increasing erosion, and that’s compounded by the fact that sea levels are rising. Barrier islands and wetlands that protect communities from tsunamis and flooding are starting to disappear.

Many species that depend on sand as an important part of their habitat, such as crocodiles and turtles, are starting to be endangered as well. Further, the standing pools of water that are created when you remove sand are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria that cause a variety of diseases. This is a problem that we need to take seriously.

We are raised to believe that progress is good. We try not to think about what disappears as a result of this progress. We don’t think about limits. We don’t think about the end of things. We just take, take, take. One barge load at a time.

Kapowsin Quarry

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