Women Painters of Washington Gallery

Normally, I plan to visit an art gallery. I’m therefore anticipating a feeling of delight and awe, and even a bit of envy, when presented with such talent. I’m emotionally prepared for those exquisite feelings.

But on this particular, pre-pandemic day, I wasn’t expecting to be treated to dozens of stunning works of art. I didn’t have the opportunity to look forward to it. I wasn’t braced for an influx of emotion.

The Women Painters of Washington Gallery snuck up on me. I had other business in the Columbia Center Building, Seattle’s tallest skyscraper. I planned to do that. I didn’t plan to do this. But there it was, on the third floor, beckoning to me, splashes of vibrant color peeking through the windows, an antidote to the evergrey of a Pacific Northwest winter.

“Hello,” I thought. “I wasn’t expecting to meet you. I didn’t even know you existed.”

This encounter happened at an opportune time. The gallery is only open Monday through Friday from 11am to 4pm. Otherwise I’d have had to content myself with pressing my nose against the glass. And admission to this treat for your senses is absolutely free.

I not only enjoyed the art in this gallery, but also the very premise of it. According to their exquisitely designed website, the Women Painters of Washington has a wonderful mission statement:

Women Painters of Washington empowers professional women artists to create, exhibit, and market their work while fostering art appreciation within their communities and beyond.

This group was founded in 1930 because, as I’m sure will come as no surprise to you, women artists face certain limitations when attempting to realize their artistic potential. What a fantastic idea. Three cheers for strength in numbers!

I encourage you to check out their website, where you can see dozens of works of art from the comfort of your own home. But if, like me, you think the website is of fabulous design, you really need to visit the gallery when this virus burns itself out. Its walls each contain a giant metal wheel which can roll along a metal track so that the placement and design of an exhibit can change with each passing display. I’ve never seen such a brilliant use of limited space.

What follows are pictures my husband took during our visit. Let me know what you think. And if you get a chance, stop by and visit one of Seattle’s best kept secrets!

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Shopping for the Apocalypse

A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.

What a nightmare.

The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)

And yet, I persisted.

When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.

I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.

All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.

I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.

After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.

The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?

While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.

Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.

“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”

That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.

Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.

I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.

Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.

For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.

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Cold, Hard Adrenaline

Recently I went snowmobiling with my husband at the Kachess Road Sno-Park here in Washington. It was my second time snowmobiling. I’ve blogged about it, and my mixed emotions about the environmental impact, before. But, still, what a blast.

I love being out in the wilderness, and with this COVID-19 pandemic, it suits me just fine to be dozens of miles away from civilization. And the conditions were perfect. The paths had been groomed just before we got there, and it was a sunny day. It was obviously cold, and we were riding on about 24 inches of snow, but we were equipped properly, and it was a glorious day all around.

I was really rather proud of myself on this second ride. We did 26 miles, and I was able to go faster than the first time, and we got to some locations that most humans will never get to see. When we weren’t tooling around on the paths or playing around in the large, hilly bowl that is kind of snowmobile nirvana, we were sitting there in the quiet, taking in the gorgeous views. Lakes, waterfalls, mountains and valleys galore. Check out the photos and video below.

I was really starting to get why people are addicted to adrenaline. I was feeling like Superwoman out there, speeding along with a powerful engine beneath me, whipping through switchbacks, hitting bumps and (I think) catching air a time or two, with a rooster tail of snow behind me. What a rush. I never wanted it to end.

That is, until I did. Ah, hubris.

I was following my husband up a ridge with steep drop-offs on either side. I don’t really do well with heights, but at this point I was feeling pretty invincible. I was carpe-ing the hell out of that diem!

Then, one of my snowmobile skis hit a rut and jerked my steering wheel sharply to the right. That made me panic and grip the steering wheel even harder, which was the worst possible thing to do because the accelerator is, of course, on the hand grip.

You know that feeling when you’re poised at the very top of a roller coaster? This wasn’t that feeling at all. There was no excitement, no anticipation. Just sheer terror.

The next thing I knew, I was plunging about 50 feet down a 60 degree decline, going what felt like about a million miles an hour. That, I probably could have handled, except for the fact that at the bottom of the decline was a 60 degree incline. I loved geometry in school, but I was rather busy, so I wasn’t going to calculate that angle, but I can tell you it was pretty effing acute. The entire situation was acute. I was sure I was going to crash into the rapidly approaching hillside, fly over my handlebars, and die.

It’s really amazing how things go into slow motion when you think you’re about to cash it in. The whole experience probably took less than 2 seconds, but I remember distinctly every single thought that went through my head as I screamed and employed a lot of expletives. First of all, of course, was the image of me breaking my neck, and the anticipation of the excruciating pain and then nothingness that I was convinced I was about to undergo. Then I thought about how badly it would suck to die on the second anniversary of the day we started dating, and how wonderful these past two years have been. And then I got very sad, because we’re just getting started and I really don’t want it to end. Not yet. Not any time soon. And then, oddly enough, I thought, “Well, at least I won’t have to deal with COVID-19.”

Then, just like that, I was at the top of the incline that I thought was going to be my undoing. I have no recollection of the ascent. I was too busy bracing for impact. I have no idea how my snowmobile managed to get up there. Somehow it defied geometry and physics, and I was alive.

But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. My snowmobile was tilted very sharply to the right, and I was sure that it was going to roll any second. So I turned off the engine and carefully got off of it and stood out of its path, waiting for my husband.

The wait seemed like an eternity, but in reality it probably wasn’t more than 15 seconds. He keeps a close eye on me. He was out front, so he didn’t see my death plunge, and couldn’t hear anything over his engine, but he quickly figured out that I was no longer behind him. Naturally he turned around and came back. I got to watch him ride along the ridge, right past me, because he wasn’t expecting to find me on a completely different hilltop. But he then saw me and made his way over via a much safer route.

Miraculously, I wasn’t hurt at all, and neither was the snowmobile. My husband hugged me and said he was proud of me. But I felt like a total idiot, and I was seconds away from losing it. I knew that if I sat down in the snow and burst into tears like I desperately wanted to do, the rest of the day would be ruined, and we had been having so much fun.

So I breathed deeply, and kept repeating to myself that I was alive. Alive. Alive. We slowly made it down off that hill. And lest we forget, we were still far, far away from the parking lot, so I had no choice but to press on.

My confidence was pretty shattered. I did sniffle a bit in my closed helmet, as we proceeded on less ambitious trails. My husband showed me a lake and a waterfall. He let me take things at my own pace. Snowmobiles do require a certain speed so as not to overheat though, so at one point he passed me and that encouraged me to speed up a bit. I was able to do that. That felt like an accomplishment.

It really was a wonderful day, despite the adrenaline rush and the dance with death. It really was. And I genuinely do look forward to going again.

So, yeah, that happened.

When all is said and done, I was grateful for the reminder of how good my life is. I hope I never take that for granted. Life is so incredibly precious.

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Why I Love the Primaries

Recently I had the privilege to attend a Bernie Sanders rally at the Tacoma Dome here in Washington State. Yep, that arrow, pointing to the blue smudge amongst the 17,000 other attendees in the picture below…that’s me! It was exhilarating to be among so many like-minded people.

I imagine it would be even more exciting for someone who was still on the fence about who they intend to vote for in the primaries, but I’ve been for Bernie since the last presidential election, so this was more of a confirmation of my beliefs in what he stands for. I will definitely vote for him in the democratic primaries.

But I’m not here to convince you to do the same. Make up your own mind. Seriously.

No, this is a post about primaries in general, and why I think they’re so critically important. It drives me insane that so many people skip the primary process altogether. The voter turnout is always much lower.

I’m a democrat, but here lately, it’s mostly by default. I would sooner die than vote republican, because they represent everything that I DO NOT stand for. But I’m losing faith in politicians in general, if I’m honest, and that’s heartbreaking.

I do believe firmly in the democratic process. I think voting is the most patriotic thing a person can do. When you vote, you’re helping to decide the moral shape of your country, and that’s important.

In a way, though, I think you have more ability to make an impact in the primaries than at any other time. When you vote in the primaries, you’re telling your political party what values you hold, and what direction you want them to take in the future. Even if your person doesn’t win, they’ll think, “Wow, that person stood more radically for women’s rights (for example) than any other candidate, and got 30 percent of the primary vote. Maybe we should take women’s rights more seriously, moving forward.”

I see primary platforms as my wish lists. If my person gets elected, do I actually think they’ll achieve everything they set out to do, given our obstructionist two party system? No one can, regardless of party, the way things stand these days. Not by a long shot. But even if they get partway to where I’d like this country to go, it’s better than the alternative. And if your party learns what truly matters to its constituents, then it will start putting up more candidates that hold those values. And then if that person wins… like I said, baby steps. But steps nonetheless.

So don’t skip your party’s primaries, folks. Don’t skip any election, for that matter. Vote! Vote! Vote!

Me at Bernie Rally

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Bonsai Drama

I have always loved bonsai. This is where nature meets sculpture. It is the careful cultivation of miniature trees so that they draw you in to their magical world. Bonsai tell silent stories. They make you hear wind and water even if it is not there.

They also carry with them a history of love and care. Many are extremely old and have been doted upon for decades. They have a way of creating a universe of their own, and they allow you to visit, provided you behave respectfully. Bonsai make you want to whisper as you walk carefully among them.

So I was delighted to discover that the Pacific Bonsai Museum is not far from me, and I plan to visit very soon. It will no doubt be the subject of another blog post. But I am heartbroken by the reason that this museum has come to my attention.

Bonsai are not about drama. They’re subtle. They’re peaceful. They’re quiet. But sometimes drama is visited upon them.

Recently two bonsai were stolen from the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington. (Read more about it here.) They were more than 70 years old, and each worth thousands of dollars. One of them had been cultivated from a seed, in a tin can, by a man who was held in an internment camp during World War II.

There is shadowy footage of two individuals walking in and just taking them in the early morning hours. It’s tantamount to an abduction. It’s horrifying. These trees require special care, and they’re not meant to be hidden away beneath a cloak of shame.

Fortunately, the thieves seem to have figured that out, because they left them on the road leading to the museum two days later, and they were discovered by security guards. One of them had been transplanted and had suffered some damage. The other one, thank goodness, was unharmed.

I don’t understand the instinct that some humans have when they see something beautiful and fragile and defenseless and can’t resist taking that thing and trying to possess it and ultimately ruining it for everyone. It happens all the time, and it defies logic.

We all should make space for quiet, tiny, beautiful things, and we need to share these things, gently and respectfully, with the wider world in a spirit of grace and generosity. To do anything less is uncivilized.

Bonsai

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That Moment When the Hair Stands up on the Back of Your Neck

So, I was sitting at my desk at work. It was a typical day on my drawbridge (if you can call any day on a drawbridge typical). I’d been there for several hours. I was thinking about lunch. That’s when I saw the half-eaten food in the recycle bin.

My first instinct was to be irritated. Not everyone takes recycling as seriously as I do. I sighed, and transferred the food into the regular trash can. But then I realized that the last employee who had been on the bridge was… me.

I had gotten off work at 11 pm the night before, and had returned to work at 7 am that morning. No one had been there in the intervening hours. Let me rephrase that. No one who was supposed to have been there had been there. And yet, there was that food.

I tested the window beside the desk. It was unlocked. We never leave it unlocked. I looked at the lock on the outside of the window. It had been tampered with. (See below.) Someone had been there.

This felt like a violation, as if someone had rifled through my underwear drawer. Granted, nothing of value was taken. Then I realized that some of my food items were missing from the fridge. And I had left the toilet seat up after cleaning the bathroom the night before. Now it was down.

Someone had broken in to get out of the wind and weather, and had made themselves at home, helped themselves to my food, and used the bathroom. Thank goodness they weren’t still there when I arrived in the morning. What would I have done? I wouldn’t have seen them until I reached the top of the stairs, which would have made it awfully hard for either one of us to beat a hasty retreat.

And then I realized that they could still be there.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Suddenly the closed closet door behind me felt like it was radiating heat. I turned slowly. I looked at that door. My heart was pounding.

But surely no one had been standing in there for 4 solid hours, amongst the mops and buckets, as I sat all alone not two feet away, without me hearing a sound. Surely not.

Still…

I slowly opened the drawer where the heavy industrial flashlight was housed. I gripped it tightly. I took a deep breath and opened the closet door.

Nobody. I felt sick with relief. I felt resentful that my safe place no longer felt safe.

And then there were the phone calls and the paperwork and the police report and the debate about best methods to amp up security. Those things kept me busy. Those things prevented me from digesting the experience.

That night, before security measures could be put into place, an employee was posted on the bridge overnight. And at 1 am, someone tried to break in again. My coworker scared them away, but couldn’t give a good description. Great.

Now, a few days out, what strikes me most is how abruptly the atmosphere in that room had changed for me. One minute, status quo. The next… Someone had been there. Someone who shouldn’t have been. In my sanctuary.

And it could happen again at any time.

Tranquility is such a tenuous thing.

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Third and Pine

Shots rang out on Third and Pine in the gritty heart of downtown Seattle, Washington. A major commuter hub in the midst of rush hour, it was bustling with activity. All were strangers to one another. They’re forever linked now, as they hit the ground together and scrambled for cover.

This was the third shooting in the area in just over 24 hours. The total head count for those three incidents is two dead, and 8 injured, including a 9-year-old boy. The latest of these three tragedies escalated from some kind of a dispute outside the McDonalds.

There’s no fight on earth, absolutely none, that justifies opening fire on a crowd of strangers. It’s heartbreaking. It’s outrageous. It’s unnecessary.

What strikes me most about this situation is that it was so arbitrary. All the victims were simply minding their own business. Perhaps they were getting ready to catch a bus after a hard day’s work, or craving some French fries, or stopping in for their daily coffee break. Maybe they had just paused long enough to text a message to a spouse. “Honey, could you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” “Don’t forget to stop at the dry cleaners.” And bam, their lives were forever changed, if not ended.

Our very existence, in general, is pretty arbitrary. We never know when we’ll find ourselves at the Thirds and the Pines of life. It could all end in a second. There’s no way to know.

You can choose to live your life in fear because of this, but I think a better option is to savor every single moment you have, because each one is a precious gift. It’s all so fragile, so priceless, so bittersweet. It’s much better to appreciate than to fear.

So, your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go tell someone you love them. Right now.

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