Chihuly Garden and Glass Gallery

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Room-sized Chihuly glass sculpture

I’ve done a fair amount of sightseeing in Seattle, but I’d never been to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Gallery until a trip this autumn. The gallery and gardens sit under the Space Needle, but somehow I’d always passed them by. This time, I made a special visit just to see them.

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Chihuly glass piece based on Native American basket

I was disappointed in the gallery itself. Not that the glass pieces aren’t fabulous—they are. But they were displayed in dark rooms, the museum was crowded on the day I went, and I couldn’t spent the time examining the works up close and at length, the way I wanted to.

Plus, I was hungry and thirsty.

So I rushed through the eight rooms in the gallary and found my way to the cafe. There I sat for awhile with iced tea and panna cotta, while I listened to the online audio program of what I’d just seen. [link]

I should have done the visit in reverse—eaten first and put some caffeine in me, then listened to the audio program either before or while I went through the galleries. I should have gone through the museum at my own pace despite the crowds.

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In Chihuly glasshouse, showing proximity to Space Needle

But at least I did the gardens right. After my snack in the cafe revived me, I walked through the glasshouse outside to the gardens, not really intending to spend much time there. But it was a lovely fall afternoon, mid-60s and sunny—Seattle on its best behavior. I lingered in the gardens, taking many pictures.

The gardens are a fantastic and fantastical blend of natural and man-made treasures. A juxtaposition of nature and of art.

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Log and glass

 

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What is natural? What is man-made?

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What is natural? What is man-made?

I took whimsical “selfies” of myself with the Space Needle mirrored in glass globes.

 

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Can you see me?

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How about now?

I definitely recommend a vist to the Chihuly Museum and Gardens. And to the cafe. But take your time. And go on a sunny day.

When have you been surprised by an art experience?

Social Media: Reconnecting and Lurking

I’ve written before about how social media has helped me reconnect with relatives and friends. Well, I’ve had two new experiences in the last couple of weeks where social media again has warmed my heart in this way.

A second cousin found me on Facebook recently. I’ve met her and her branch of the family a couple of times, but I don’t know her well. In fact, what we most have in common (other than two great-grandparents whom I never knew) is that we have each lost both our parents in close proximity. Mine died six months apart—my mother in July 2014 and my father in January 2015. My cousin and her siblings lost both their parents this year.

I learned about her mother’s death via a post from another family member on Facebook. When I saw that post, I looked for my second cousin’s mailing address on the Internet (armed only with her full name and the city where she lived) and sent her a condolence card. A few months ago, I’d sent her mother a card when her father died earlier this year, but later I learned her mother had Alzheimer’s, so this cousin may never have seen the card I sent her mother.

But after I sent the card, this second cousin searched Facebook, found me, and sent me a message. It’s nice to have a new family connection.

My second recent experience reaches back into my childhood. After my two posts featuring my First Communion class picture (see here and here), I got curious about some of the kids in that photo. I started looking on Facebook for them, as well as for some other grade-school and high-school friends. Really, with half the world on Facebook, there’s a lot of information available, unless people proactively block it.

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Rattlesnake Mountain, a landmark seen from Richland, WA

One name I found led me to a closed Facebook group for my high-school class in my hometown of Richland, Washington. I asked to become a member of the group. The next day my request was approved, and I read through all the posts.

The Facebook group has over 100 of my high-school classmates as members. Our class was over 600 strong, so the group certainly hasn’t pulled in everyone, but there were people there I hadn’t thought about in decades. (And people I’d never known. As I said, our class had more than 600 kids in it, and I didn’t know them all.)

I’ve exchanged messages with a few on the group site, become Facebook friends with a couple more, and posted pictures and reminiscences of our common experiences that ended over forty years ago.

It’s been fun to look at recent pictures of the group members I did know. Most of them I look at and say, “Oh, yes. That’s so-and-so.” I probably wouldn’t have recognized these classmates if I’d seen them on the street so many years after graduation. But when Facebook does the work of putting a name with a face, I can see how the teenagers I knew became the sixty-somethings they are today.

I’ve only attended one high-school reunion—my 25th, which was almost twenty years ago. At that time, I was only in touch with a couple of my classmates, though I reconnected with others at the reunion. I have to say, Facebook is an easier way to reconnect. It doesn’t require a plane ticket, a diet, or new clothes. And lurking without seeming anti-social is permitted.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another high-school reunion. I’ve only been to Richland twice in the last decade—on the occasions of my parents’ funerals. I have no connection to Richland now except the crypt where my parents’ ashes are interred.

I might someday be drawn to see the town again. Or I might simply lurk on Facebook. With the Internet, I can see as much of the town as I’d like. And now I can follow the people I knew as well.

Have you reconnected with anyone from your past through social media?

Second Grade Anonymity

 

Throughout my first-grade year, I felt exposed. As I’ve written, I was a superstar during my three weeks of kindergarten and in the first first-grade classroom I attended, because I could read and the other pupils couldn’t. Even after we moved and I came into a new first-grade class in November of the school year, I was the new kid, and therefore immediately noticeable. My classmates knew my name far sooner than I learned all theirs.

I moved to yet another school for second grade. Christ the King School was a Catholic grade school, the only Catholic school in Richland, Washington. I was one of 52 students in my class. There were two second grades, so there were 52 more kids in the other class.

At the start of second grade, I knew only one other child—another girl who had been in my first grade class in the public school, who also transferred to parochial school for second grade. A few other second-graders were also new to the school, but most of the kids had gone to Christ the King in first grade and knew each other.

For the first time in my short school career, I was mostly anonymous. Not really anonymous, of course, but it felt that way. I was just one of a horde of children—one of 52 bodies crammed into desks that filled the classroom. Thirteen clusters of four desks each. Only one corner of the room was free of desks. That corner contained a semi-circle of pint-sized chairs and one teacher chair, where each reading group took its turn for reading class.

Our teacher, Sister Joanne Maureen, a young nun who I later learned was in her first year of teaching, seated us all alphabetically by last name, so she could learn our names. She had a seating chart, and she learned our names very quickly. But it took me weeks until I knew all my classmates’ names.

Sister Joanne Maureen had us read to her in the early week or two of school, then she sorted us into four groups by ability. I ended up in the A group of thirteen children, and I could identify these kids by the end of September.

As each group had its reading lesson, the other kids did worksheets on other subjects at their desks. The 39 of us were anonymous bodies during reading time. And as I recall, reading was the only subject in which the class split up. For most of the day, there were 52 of us doing everything.

Even during recess I remained mostly anonymous, because we seldom had planned activities. (I imagine even nuns need a little down time after coping with 52 children.) I roamed the playground, sometimes alone, sometimes with a couple of other girls, trying not to get asked to play hopscotch or four-square or jump roping—none of which did I do very well.

I was smaller than most kids because I was a year younger, though I was never the smallest girl in the class. My smallish size brought anonymity also. I could shrink into the woodwork pretty easily.

But as time went on, my anonymity naturally lessened.

For P.E. we were divided into teams. I didn’t know the rules to kickball, so I clearly stood out then. I remember getting yelled at by teacher and students alike when I did kicked the ball wrong (or missed it altogether).

I also was not anonymous when I threw up in the classroom late one afternoon. That made me very noticeable.

Second grade seemed to last forever. Of course, I had spent my first grade year in three different classrooms with three different teachers, so just the novelty of remaining in one room for nine months probably made second grade seem longer than the year before.

Through the course of the year, I made some friends. One very good friend, but she moved away in the summer after our second grade year. Several pretty good friends, and next week I’ll write the story of one of those. And some friends I continued to have as classmates all the way through high school.

As the months wore on, I discerned the various cliques that little girls have—the smart ones, the popular ones, the athletic ones, the slow ones. With 52 kids (about half girls), there were plenty of cliques. While I could hang with the smart kids during reading class, I was not destined to be in the popular or athletic groups. I ended up socializing mostly with the slow kids, despite my reading prowess. But I knew enough girls to invite for a birthday party in April of my second grade year.

By third grade, I was no longer anonymous. I might not have liked how my status shook out in the grade school clique hierarchy. But for better or worse, it was set. And remained that way through my eighth-grade graduation, with traces continuing through high school.

When have you felt anonymous?

May 18, 1980, Eruption of Mt. St. Helens

For most of the 1979-1980 school year, my parents lived apart. My father had started a new job in Bellevue, Washington, and my mother remained in Richland, Washington, with my younger sister and brother who were in school there. My sister was in her sophomore year of high school, and my brother was in eighth grade. (If I’m calculating correctly—I was not living with them any more; I was married and had recently moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to start my new job.)

My father traveled back to Richland many weekends that year. He would leave Bellevue after work on Friday and drive to Richland, a distance of about 200 miles. On Sunday he returned to his Bellevue apartment. My dad was always an early riser, and was often on the road around 5:00am.

Mt. St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980

Mt. St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980

May 18, 1980, was one of the mornings Dad was up and out of the Richland house early. He was across the Cascades mountain pass before 8:32am, when Mount St. Helens erupted. The volcano had been venting steam for a couple of months, and a bulge had developed on the north side of the mountain. Despite these warning signs, no one could predict when it would blow, and the eruption on May 18 was a surprise.

All the highways through the Cascades were closed, as ash rained down on Washington State. If he hadn’t been on the road so early, my father would have been stuck on the eastern side of the pass, unable to get back to Bellevue.

The mushroom cloud of ash was forty miles wide and fifteen miles high. The prevailing winds blew the ash toward Richland that morning at sixty miles an hour. The debris had crossed Washington and reached Idaho by noon.

In Richland, the ash came down so thick my brother could collect it from the lawn. He kept a baby food jar full of ash for many years. I wonder if he still has it.

The May 1980 eruption was far from the first display of power from Mt. St. Helens. I learned in researching this post that the 1840s were also an active period for the volcano. In late 1842, settlers and missionaries witnessed what they called a “great eruption” of Mt. St. Helens, though it was much smaller than the 1980 event. And artists in the area sketched later eruptions in 1845 and 1847. Had I known this when I wrote Lead Me Home, I might well have included mention of the mountain in my novel.

What natural disasters have you or your family experienced?

Stories I Couldn’t Tell Before: Driving Dad’s Oldsmobile

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A 1972 Olds 98, four door sedan. Now imagine it forest green. That was my dad’s car.

When I was in high school, my father had this huge Oldsmobile 98. It was a big four-door sedan, the biggest car Oldsmobile made. The V8 engine could tow a boat crammed full of boxes for a summer on the lake. The passenger compartment could transport our family of six, plus our large dog, comfortably. (Well, maybe not comfortably—small kids and dog often sat on the floor of the back seat—but it did hold all of us. While towing the loaded boat.)

Only my father typically drove the Olds. My mother and I could drive it. It was an automatic transmission, had power steering and power brakes, and moved more easily than my mother’s little Ford Falcon station wagon (which is what she drove until my parents bought a Capri). But the Olds was a behemoth. Huge. A tank—and it was dark green and somewhat resembled a tank.

My class—the Class of 1973—was the last class in Richland, Washington, to have all students graduate from Columbia High School. The next year’s class was split between Col Hi (as it was called) and Hanford High School. My senior year, my fifteen-year-old brother was a sophomore at Hanford. But I had classes at both high schools that year, because the only Russian teacher in town taught at Hanford, and I wanted to take second-year Russian.

Occasionally when my father was out of town that year, I was allowed to drive the Olds 98 to school. My mother usually drove me to Hanford for my first-period Russian class, then I took a school bus to Col Hi. Either Mother picked me up after school when she picked up my younger sister at the Catholic grade school near Col Hi, or I took a bus home. With all this shuttling, it was really a treat when I got to drive myself around town all day long.

One evening late in the autumn of 1972, I drove my sophomore brother and myself to Col Hi for a basketball game. Col Hi always had a good team and was an area powerhouse in basketball. This was early in the season, and fans were pumped. The parking lot was packed. I couldn’t find a space.

I drove down the last aisle in the parking lot, only to find myself boxed in at the end of the row. Earlier cars had parked illegally, blocking the end of the lane. Cars lined up behind me, honking. I couldn’t back out, and I couldn’t go forward.

There was only one option.

I gunned the powerful engine in that Olds and drove it up the side of the hill, around the cars blocking us, into the next row over, and headed out of the lot. An illegal move, to be sure.

But even worse, the hill had a 30% slope. The Olds leaned to its side more than I’d ever felt a car lean in my one year’s driving experience. And probably more than I’ve ever felt a car lean in the forty-plus years since.

Momentum carried us around the blocked cars, and nothing bad happened. As reckless acts go, this was minor. But it was still about the most reckless thing I’d ever done at age sixteen. Certainly the most reckless thing I’d ever done with Dad’s car.

“Don’t ever tell,” I warned my brother, knowing that our father would chew me out royally if he ever found out I could have rolled his Olds.

As far as I know, my brother never told. And I never did either—I never told my father, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone before writing this post. Maybe Dad would have laughed. And maybe he would have chewed me out after all this time.

What reckless acts have you undertaken in your life?

Three Weeks in Kindergarten

I started kindergarten in Corvallis, Oregon, in September 1961, when I was five-and-a-half. I was so excited to finally be in real school—I had a neighbor friend who was a second-grader, and she told me how wonderful school was. She had lorded it over me, because she went to real school, and I was just in pre-school. Even kindergarten was just for “little kids” she told me.

My kindergarten classroom had a wall of cubbies like these. As I recall, I fought for the lower right-hand cubby.

My kindergarten classroom had a wall of cubbies like these. As I recall, I fought for the lower right-hand cubby.

I remember quite a bit of my kindergarten days that September. We played outside. We played in the classroom. We sat in a circle and learned about Little Red Riding Hood and not talking to strangers.

Another girl and I had identical nap-time rugs—pink, in the shape of a kitty-cat. We fought over which of us got to put her rug in the favorite cubby hole. I don’t remember why we both liked this one particular cubby hole, but we had daily battles to get there first.

In addition to the usual play-time and nap-time of half-day kindergarten in the early 1960s, we were exposed to books each day. The teacher passed out easy readers and picture books, and the kids thumbed through them. When we finished looking at one book, we put it in a stack and took another.

Most of the kindergartners looked at the pictures. But I read the words. It was no big deal—I read much harder books at home.

One day during our third week of school, the teacher noticed I was reading a book. She asked me to read out loud to her. I did. She gave me another book and asked me to read it. I did. And a third.

The next day, she had me read to the principal. That afternoon my mother got a call. They wanted to move me up to first grade.

I was so excited—I would be a big kid! I’d be going to school all day long! The neighbor girl couldn’t lord it over me any more. And maybe in the back of my mind was the realization I wouldn’t have to fight over a cubby hole any longer.

My mother wasn’t as happy about my potential promotion as I was. She and I went to a meeting at the school with my teacher and the principal. They told my mother I would be bored in kindergarten. They said I’d even be ahead of the first-graders, because they couldn’t read either.

I begged and begged, and my parents finally decided I could go to first grade. (I really don’t remember my father being involved much in this discussion, but he must have been.)

The next Monday I marched into the first grade classroom with my mother. The teacher was a very kind young woman whose name was “Mary Theresa” just like mine. (I don’t remember her last name, except that she was a Miss, and was getting married when that school year was over.) She made me feel right at home, and I immediately loved first grade.

I was a superstar in that first grade classroom, because I could read. One boy could read some, but not as well as I could. “Wead to me, Teweesa, wead to me,” one little girl commanded daily, shoving a book into my hands. And I happily read to her.

I wasn’t as good at arithmetic, but I soon caught on to the basic counting and adding and subtracting the class was doing. And I practiced my penmanship, which was far behind my reading skills.

Unfortunately, I only remained in that wonderful first grade class for a few weeks. We moved from Corvallis back to Richland, Washington, in October 1961, because my father had finished his Ph.D. dissertation and was returning to work for General Electric at the Hanford Engineering Works. I remember drawing pumpkins in Corvallis, then we moved to Richland, where my new class drew Pilgrims.

Many years later, I learned why my mother hadn’t wanted me to be moved to first grade. She wanted me to start as a first-grader the following September at Christ the King Catholic School in Richland. Christ the King didn’t have a kindergarten in those days, so all the children started as first graders. However, there were no openings at Christ the King for first-graders in October 1961, so I spent the rest of my first grade year in public school at Jefferson Elementary School in Richland.

More on that next week.

What do you remember about your first experiences in school?

Fighting Fires: Now and Then

close up fires croppedMany of the forest fires raging in the West this summer are not far from places I know—outside of Twisp and Omak and Okanogan near Lake Chelan in Washington State; Clark Fork near Lake Pend d’Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle; and other fires in Oregon.

I remember fires from lightning raging across Rattlesnake Mountain when I was a child. They never approached close to home, but the smell of smoke wafted into town and lingered for days. The black hillsides reminded us of nature’s power until plant life grew the following year. Sometimes it took several years for the scars to vanish.

As I watch the news reports this summer, particularly when I hear of firefighters dying, I think of my father. It’s not just because he also died this past year, though perhaps that is a factor. It’s because fire-fighting was a part of his personal story. Had he died fighting fires as a youth, like the young men did this past week in Washington State, I would not be here.

My father spent his summers during college fighting forest fires in Idaho. The money was better than any other job he could get, and he relished the freedom of living away from his parents and working outdoors.

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I think this picture was taken during one of those Idaho summers between 1952 and 1954. He was a skinny guy in those years. The hard physical labor must have built him some muscles, though they’re not particularly evident in this picture.

My father told a few stories about his Idaho summers. None of the stories I remember involved him getting close to flames, though I think he did on occasion. His stories gave me the impression that most of his time was spent hacking through weeds and brush to build fire breaks, not in the dangerous heat and flames we see on television.

My father developed a life-long hatred of weeds. When my brother and I were in grade school, he assigned us the summer chore of pulling weeds out of our backyard gardens—a different flower bed each weekday morning. My brother had an hour of duty each day. I got off with only thirty minutes, if I spent the other thirty minutes practicing the piano. My musical abilities improved rapidly.

Some days during his summers in Idaho, my father’s job was to repair equipment. One day he had to work on the camp’s Jeep. They didn’t have a car lift in the forestry camp, so the Jeep was driven onto planks over a pit, then the men worked underneath it. Apparently, the planks were not very secure, and it was fortunate that the Jeep did not crush the mechanics below. According to my father, the foreman did a lot of cussing when he discovered the rickety set up.

My father’s goal with his summer employment was to earn enough money to cover his college tuition and books for the following school year, and he succeeded. (Of course, he told me frequently that his annual tuition at the University of Washington was $600 in those days—less than books alone would be today.)

For his room and board during college, my father traded off between living and home and living at the fraternity house. When he lived at home, he didn’t pay rent, but what young college man wants to live with his parents? After a quarter, he was usually chomping at the bit to leave.

At the fraternity house, he worked as a short-order cook in the kitchen to cover his living expenses. That’s where he learned to baste eggs and make such yummy pancakes! But after a quarter there, he was ready for the easier life at home.

It’s hard for me to believe my father was ever a 19- to 21-year-old college student facing danger, whether the danger came from fire or from falling Jeeps. I was born before he was 23, just a few years after his fire-fighting summers. He always seemed cautious to me, even when I was a young child. Maybe that was just the face he showed his daughter. Maybe it was the maturity of becoming a parent.

All these memories run through my head as I listen to the evening news. I mourn the deaths of the young firefighters as well as my father’s death. I regret the destruction of some beautiful parts of the nation. And I remember my own small connections to the newsworthy events of the moment.

What recent news stories have hit you close to home?