Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Third Time

This is the back side of the secret building where Ranger and I walk every day. 

We first come round at the far end, down by the street light, 
and stomp along the lane that runs the full length of the back side of the building. 

Barely visible in the shadows are the three slim trees that grow against the building; 
the four large windows against the darker grey siding help highlight their location.



Yet another encounter with my owl today.

That's three times in one week. But this time was different than the others.

* * * * *

On our usual walk, with darkness gathering round, Ranger and I cornered our secret building. As soon as the back lawn came into view, my eyes immediately began searching for a white shape among the trees against the building.

I didn't see anything.

And honestly, I suddenly began to doubt that I had ever seen anything. Every day for the past week, I wanted so badly to see that owl, but how did I know for sure that my brain wasn't fooling my eyes into some sort of illusion or trick?

That was entirely possible.

My eyes continued to scan the bare branches of the trees against the building as my brain counseled caution and my feet marched along.

Then. 

Suddenly. 

Two things happened at once.

* * * * *

Someone inside the building switched on a light. One of the windows directly behind the trees lit up in a flash, and the trees' silhouette now stood out visibly before my eyes.

And in that silhouette, I saw something that was most decidedly not a bare branch. 

Near the top of the illuminated window, I saw the outline of something solid, with rounded lobes. Clearly, this was the lower tip of something that extended up into the darkness above the window. Something that looked almost like the tip of a bird's wing.

A big bird's wing.

Adrenalin shot through my body.

My skeptical brain quickly offered up an explanation. This was no owl. This was a small cluster of dead leaves that still clung to the tree, as winter leaves often do.

Well. That would make sense.

But at the same time, my mind's eye clearly recalled that every single inch of those limbs was bare. 

Now my skin began to prickle and my hair stood up.

* * * * * 

In the same split second, Ranger made a bold move.

Though he had been happily prancing along with me in the center of the paved lane, he suddenly veered toward the lawn, in a direct line toward the base of the trees. He didn't bark or make any overt sign of aggression, but my keenly attuned hunting dog moved with clear motives of instinct and intent. 

* * * * *

Then a third thing happened.

It's hard to describe because I didn't actually hear or see anything. But beyond the power of my human senses, I felt a bolt of energy hit me like a surge of electricity.

Chills swept over me.
My body trembled, inside and out.
My brain scrambled to try to make sense of what was happening.

Then I saw it.

Majestic, powerful, enormous bird.
Wings outstretched against the dark sky.
Swiftly, silently, rising up and away from the building.

When my owl was directly over Ranger's agitated red head, the bird abruptly altered his course. I watched as he executed a sharp ninety-degree turn, now traveling directly away from me and my dog, and quickly disappeared into the shadows of the wood. 

No part of me felt fear, but I experienced all these things with an almost unbearable tension. 

Our third encounter now complete, Ranger and I walked on in the darkness and all I could think was I couldn't wait to see my owl again;

* * * * *

I'm still not sure why this bird has such a profound effect on me.

And I realize that this sounds rather dramatic and extreme.

But after these experiences, I can honestly say that when I see my owl, I feel as though I am staring into the very face of God. 

* * * * *

For more stories about my owl, read these:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sweet Citrus


I've found a sure-fire way to bring order, peace and digestive good health into my dull winter days.

And no, I am not talking about

Feng Shui.
hot yoga,
Whole 30,
or a chakra alignment.

Here's my secret: go to the grocery store and buy some citrus fruit.


Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and satsumas.

Peel them
Eat them
Let the juice run down your chin.
Fill up on their sweet and tangy goodness.

And taking a few photos always boosts the spirits too.

Trust me, you will be transformed.

* * * * *

Some other stories about beating the January blahs:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Day Among The Slabs

Hello, gorgeous slabs of stone. I am here to kiss you. 


If you watch HGTV as obsessively as I do, chances are good that we share the bucket list item of one day shopping at a granite slab warehouse.

We took more photos than the paparazzi outside Bieber's room in Bora Bora. No regrets.


Come on. How could anyone watch Christina run her hands over one piece of magnificent stone after the next, unfailingly choosing the one with sparkles, without madly desiring to do the exact same thing?

I mean, I could do without Tarek standing around whining about the cost, because he knows full well that his wife always - and I mean always - nails the kitchen design, which then drives their flip's selling price into the stratosphere, week after week after week. Christina will get her sparkles in the end.

It's all a part of their process, am I right?

Going in, I thought I'd given my heart to this one, a quartz product called Statuario.
But in real life, the veining looked a bit more engineered than natural, and I fell firmly out of love. 

Natural granite boggles my mind. The luxuriant colors and designs sweep me off my feet, but ultimately feel too detailed for my moderately minimalist tendencies. I blew this one a kiss and walked on.

* * * * *

If, by some fatal flaw in the universe, you are reading these words and saying "HG what now?" then please, let me fill you in. I'm talking about the Home and Garden TV network, and one of its hit shows, Flip or Flop, which showcases the renovation skills and real estate finesse of a Socal couple named Tarek and Christina. 

These two fix up houses that are nasty beyond the human imagination and sell them for insane profits. And many episodes feature an iconic scene wherein the kids pick out just the right stone slabs for their redesigned counter tops, while the viewers - and I speak for myself - drool all over themselves at home. 

* * * * *

So last week, as our slow-motion and multi-phased kitchen reno moved on toward new counter tops, my slab-selecting dreams came true.

Whoa now. This showstopper hunk of marble made me weak in the knees, and when 
I found the price to be within my range, I went home wearing his promise ring. 

Sadly, when I returned a few days later to seal the deal, I learned that this slab had been mislabeled
 and was actually priced far beyond my means. Dang it. The search was on yet again.


Daughters Two and Four accompanied me to Pental Granite & Marble where we strolled for a solid hour among the slabs, alternately seeking out specimens to fit our exact criteria, and wandering aimlessly down row after row after row of gorgeous stone to simply drink them in..

Expectations definitely met.
Bucket list item officially ticked.
Dream come true.

New search. new slab, new love story. 

This is a humble yet handsome honed Carrara marble that fits into my pocketbook, and promises to bring my eighties oak cabinets up a notch or two. I've committed myself to him, and we are to be united in mid-February.


And while I am excited to see the stone we ultimately chose come to life as counters in my very own kitchen, I will never forget the glory of my day among the slabs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Burung Hantu

In the Malay language, the word "owl" is spoken as burung hantu.
Directly translated, the words mean, "ghost bird." 

In this dimly-lit, late-afternoon photo of the secret building, 
my owl's favorite tree is the one on the left. 



I saw my owl again.

On our usual walk today, Ranger and I headed across the foot bridge toward the secret building where we saw him the first time, at pretty much the same hour of twilight..

We rounded the back corner of the building, and I strained my eyes in the falling light to see if I could make him out on the lawn where we found him on Friday.

Nope. No owl in sight.

Sigh. I've been hoping all week to encounter him again but you know what they say about lightning striking twice in the same place.

It rarely happens.

So I let Ranger continue to lead me around the curve of the lane, trying to be not disappointed.

Just to be sure, though, my eyes scanned the tree - actually three narrow trees, planted side by side by side against the back of the building - where the owl had alighted on our first meeting.

And there he was.

A pale shadow in the deepening darkness.
Just a few meters off the ground.
Utterly and perfectly motionless.

I gasped inwardly and stared.

While I could not make out his face - and he certainly gave me no hints - I am pretty sure that owl stared at me as I slowly and carefully tiptoed past his perch, my oblivious red dog trailing happily behind me.

When we cleared what I perceived to be his air space, I turned back to take another long look at my owl. Honestly, I was hoping against hope that he would fly again, moving swiftly and silently into the nearby woods.

But he didn't. He just sat stone till, enjoying, I presume, the emerging darkness that brings him fully to life.

And I couldn't help but think, as the Malay do, that my white owl looked just like a pale phantom in the night sky..

Burung hantu. Ghost bird.

The very idea sent delicious shivers down my spine.

And I hope very much that I will see my owl again soon.


* * * * *

For more stories about my owl, read these:

Simple Life

After a long, leisurely evening spent among the sweetly spirited Impressionist masters, with just a few minutes to spare before closing time, my daughters and I shot across the Seattle Art Museum to spend a few fleeting moments in our favorite gallery of modern art.

Lean, 
Simple. 
Pure.

This minimalist, mostly abstract work is everything that Impressionism - natural and fresh and filled with dappled light - is not.

Yet both styles of art sing to me.

And in both, I see the world.

Because both are bursting with life. 

Watching people.


People watching people.

Watching cowboy Elvis.


Irregular orange rectangles

Stacked blue squares.

 I am seriously thinking about climbing them.

 Yellow fades to purple

Glass fractures light.

 Golden squares on squares.

 Geometry unleashed. 

I never tire of contemplating this simple life. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Invitation To Dinner

A 'before' shot of the lasagna I made for Aqil and Brian. I tried a new recipe which met with rave reviews. Don't worry...I left out the pork.


On Saturday night, I invited two friends over to join my family for dinner.

They arrived around seven and we sat right down to the table.

We ate a lot of dinner.
We talked.
We played a card game.
We took a deep breath and then plowed into dessert.

We watched a movie.
We talked during the slow bits.
We finished and stretched and mulled over the movie and slowly shook ourselves back into the real world

Then I packed them up some leftovers
And my guests said goodnight.

Now. There are two interesting things about this evening that keep circling around in my head.

One:

This was a perfectly ordinary night. I've hosted my fair share of dinner guests over the years, and the script generally follows this same pattern. There was nothing unusual or strange or even the least bit out of the norm during this particular evening.

Two:

This was an extraordinary night. My guests were not neighbors or school buddies or a family from church but two college freshman born on the other side of the world.

Aqil is the cousin of my best Malaysian friend, and Brian is his Taiwanese/Swiss roommate. The guys met while attending an international high school in Kuala Lumpur, and share the experience of growing up in several major cities around the world before landing themselves here in Seattle at the University of Washington.

Both present themselves as articulate, interesting, and thoughtful young men. They are funny, honest, amazingly well-traveled, and super easy to get along with. My family and I find their company thoroughly enjoyable and they seem to like us too.

And on one hand, it's ridiculously clear that all of our differences really amount to nothing at all.

But on the other hand, this world is full of people screaming about differences as if there is no way on God's green earth that we can ever overcome them and find a way to get along.

Maybe the people of this world could solve all the drama by simply inviting each other to dinner more often.


The evening passed by so agreeably that I entirely forgot to take more photos until the guys had gone  home and all that was left was me and this 'after' sink full of dirty dishes.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Vast And Beautiful Mysteries Of Life

Just moments ago, Ranger and I stomped in the front door on return from our daily walk, and we have quite an adventure to share.

We were late getting started today. I was out running errands until after five, so Ranger was more than ready to go when I returned. I dropped my groceries on the counter, changed my shoes, and off we went.

In other nature news from my house today, my amaryllis burst forth in bloom.


It's only fair to say that Ranger waited patiently for me. My fourth-born, who was napping on the couch with our boy while I was gone, did mention that at one point in the afternoon, Ranger got up, looked at her, and offered a lukewarm whine. She hushed him and he obediently lay back down. Then she checked the time. 4:31 p.m. Not bad.

Darkness was settling in as we crossed the foot bridge through the ravine behind the school and came upon my secret place.

Well, yes. My original plan was for this phenomenon to take place in time for Christmas. So like a month ago. But really. who's counting.


Okay, so it's really not that secret. The foot bridge leads to an administrative outpost for the adjacent high school. Tucked into the woods, this rectangular, out-of-sight office building is surrounded by a paved lane that wraps around three sides - short, long short, and then leads back out to the main school campus. By late Friday afternoon, this secluded area is always deserted and quiet. 

Today, Ranger and I hopped off the foot bridge, same as always, and began our journey around the back of the building.

As usual, Ranger was working the full extent of his fifty-foot lead, wandering back and forth across the lane, sniffing the landscaping around the secret building on our left, or the wild perimeter of the woods to our right.

I suddenly noticed two unfamiliar women up ahead, standing in the lane on the long side of the building, about ten paces ahead of us. They turned round to face us and spoke in greatly exaggerated but utterly undiscernable whispers.

I had no idea what they were trying to say.

Instinctively, I began to coil Ranger's rope, slowly increasing my control over him in an uncertain situation, and he hunted obliviously on.

As I moved a few steps closer, the women repeated their message and with a burst of adrenaline, I understood.

"There's an owl up here in the lawn."

Oh, good gracious.

In my book, there is no bad time for nature to burst forth in glory and knock my beauty-seeking socks off. This profound mystery took place before my very eyes today, and I'm grateful indeed.


For years, in the wee-est hours of the night, I've listened with my heart beating out of my chest to the majestic calls of an unseen owl in my back woods. But never have I seen one of these noble predators. And knowing how elusive these nocturnal hunters can be, it never even occurred to me to dream of seeing one. 

The long, back length of the secret building is not lit, which was good news for the owl but bad news for us, as we strained our eyes to make him out. But one of my new companions noticed a movement.

"Oh, he just flew up into that tree!"

Turning this way and that, we strained to see the bird's silhouette as he perched in the branches of the fifteen-foot tree planted right up against the building, but I still couldn't make him out.

We quietly stepped along the dark lane, hoping to find an angle that would allow us to catch sight of him.

I think what I noticed first was the quiet shudder of the tree as the feathered beast pushed off against it.

What I saw sent chills over every inch of my body.

An enormous, ghostly white specter passed almost directly over our heads.
An utterly silent flap, flap of powerful wings swiftly propelled the bird over the lane and into the waiting woods.
And, expertly maneuvering its wings just so, the owl landed with speedy but soundless perfection on a tall tree branch, just beyond our line of sight.

My impromptu companions and I gasped with delight.
We stood for a long moment, reminding each other of what we had just seen, as if none of us could believe it herself.
Then we parted company, strangers no more.

Ranger, for his part, had not noticed a thing. And the owl had not seemed to care one bit about him.

We finished our walk, Ranger happily sniffing as usual, and me contemplating the vast and beautiful mysteries of life.

* * * * *

For more stories about my owl, read these:

Friday, January 22, 2016

There Were Plenty Of Fish In These Seas

Our daily conversations are peppered with popular cliches:

Live authentically.
Tell it like it is.
Be all that you can be.
Today is the first day in the rest of your life.

While these sayings may contain some wisdom or at least a kernel of truth, I generally try to avoid them like the plague.

But after a lovely afternoon at the Seattle Aquarium last week, I was surprised to find that these old chestnuts were deliciously adequate to describe my visit.

* * * * *

Last Friday afternoon, my second- and fourth-born and I zoomed down from suburbia to our fair city's waterfront, where we ditched the car and strolled amidst a chaotic construction zone till we reached our destination.


^ Is that foggy horizon the spitting image of a January day in Seattle?

Yes. It is. We hustled out of the damp, drizzling rain and into the cozy warmth of the aquarium and came face to face first with this awesome sight


^ A massive saltwater aquarium full of native Puget Sound marine life, including a gigantic one-eyed rockfish and an underwater Seahawks football helmet. We strolled past the front glass at a moderate pace without taking much time to stop and stare.

Seen one silver fish, seen 'em all.


^ The next series of exhibits captured the variety and outrageous creativity of Pacific Northwest tide pool life.

Anemones, sea urchins, sea stars, mussels and other tempting specimens, all available for viewers to touch firsthand. And this was pretty cool, but honestly, we explore wild tide pools every summer during our camping trips to the Pacific coast.

So you know, been there, done that.


^ Following along a massive maze of rocky viewing areas, we were transported into an underwater landscape of coral reefs resplendent with tropical fish and sea life. Compared to our local species of gray, grayer and grayest, these flamboyant fishies were a breath of fresh air; we lingered especially long over the adorable little clown fish and the haunting white jellyfish.

We surely stopped to smell those roses.

* * * * *

At this point, the traffic flow directed us out of the main building and onto a covered pathway leading among a series of outdoor exhibits.And while I'm not going to complain too much, it's important to remember that we were stepping out into the chill of a rainy winter afternoon. Saturated from the beauty I'd witnessed inside, I wondered whether the remaining attractions could possibly live up to the adorableness we'd already seen in the comfort of the interior.

Little did I know that I was about to have my socks knocked off.

Outside live the marine mammals:

Northern fur seals.
Harbor seals.
And four of the most adorable sea otters you could possibly imagine.

And even on this damp and dreary day, they were forever in motion:

Swimming
Diving
Cavorting
Eating and
Playfully chasing each other round and round

For almost an hour, we stood and watched, immune to the shivering cold, transfixed by the joy and merriment of these adorable beasts.So caught up in the moment were we that our cameras remained in our pockets, our eyes riveted on the animals' antics.

We were like kids in a candy store, and hands down, these were our favorite moments of the trip.


As we hiked back to the car, I thought how my visit had grown exponentially more satisfying with each new attraction; the payoff of the last exhibits being infinitely more rewarding than the first.

And I realized that even though I had fully enjoyed the early sights of our visit, we had definitely saved the best for last.


P.S. If you didn't find it, the underwater Seahawks helmet is visible in the second photo from the top. Counting from the left, starting with the woman in red and her child in white, look between the fifth and sixth people. At the height of their heads, the deep blue helmet sits on a rock.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ranger Lately

Ranger curled up in his favorite corner of the couch. The fur on his leg still looks damp from the rain.

My boy, Ranger, has really been on a good roll lately.

Not gonna lie. He is getting up there in years. And his health is not what it used to be.

But his days are a sweet succession of

long, lazy naps,
patrols around the backyard,
delicious drinks of cold, refreshing water,
more long, lazy naps, and
a handful of dog treats, as made available by the humans for good behavior.

As usual, his routine builds to the predictable late-afternoon crescendo: walk time.

You may recall that years ago, Ranger and I fell into the habit of taking our daily exercise at 4:20 p.m. Somehow, this clever boy set his internal alarm clock to this hour, and I've been living with the consequences ever since.

Just yesterday afternoon, for example, we were both dozing on the couch as I pretended to watch TV. All was peace and quiet, except for the rain pitter-pattering on the windows, the lolling thrum of the dryer in the next room, and my dog's gentle snores.

Suddenly, without ceremony, Ranger popped open his eyes, climbed down off the neighboring sofa cushion, turned around to face me, and began to whine.

When Ranger whines, there is no ignoring him. He's a regular mosquito in your bedroom at night.

I peeped one eye open to glance at the clock.

4:19 p.m.

Mhmm. He's that good.

So off we went into the wet wilderness, and for the next 45 minutes, my dog wagged happily as he hunted up and down suburban sidewalks, greeted the other neighborhood dogs with glee, heeled smartly as we crossed streets, and generally behaved like an all-out gem.

Soaked and satisfied, we headed home, where I whipped up his deluxe dinner. We raised him on simple dry kibble but lately have come round to treating him to a variety of pricey dog foods, stirred together into a scrumptious stew.

Ranger ate every bite with relish, stepped outside for a long drink of cold water, then curled up in a delectable if damp ball on the couch. Though he kept a close eye on me, following along as I moved from room to room, Ranger slept like an angel for the rest of the evening.

In fact, he's snoring at my feet right now.


* * * * * 

I don't know how much life is left for Ranger. But then, none of us know for sure, do we.

However, I am completely certain of one thing - Ranger is making the most out of every sweet moment of his life.

* * * * *

I have written literally dozens of stories about my boy, Ranger - here are a few of my favorites:
Road Trip Day 10: Howell, MI | a sweet visit with my mom 
Sleeping Beauty | creature comforts 
With Joy And Wild Abandon | a dog on the beach 
Camping: It's All About The Memories | oh, but that photo is one of my favorites
Adventures In The Woods |  a muddy dog is a happy dog
My Homemade Macaroni And Cheese | in which Ranger is forced to wait

Monday, January 18, 2016

Priyanka And Me Again


On a day full of goods and bads, rights and wrongs, ups and downs, I found myself so spun around and flustered that I momentarily lost track of who I am and what I stand for.

Then, this little gem landed on my Facebook timeline.

And in an instant, I remembered.

Thank you, Nat, for posting the picture.

And thank you, Priyanka, for shining with a light so pure and true that everyone around you can see the truth.

Life is for loving, and that's that.

* * * * *

Read another story about my sunny little friend:



* * * * *

And if you like, delve into the stories from all my adventures with the little princesses in India:


We Shall Overcome


We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's life and legacy, we sang this song in church today.

As the words unfurled from my tongue and the music swirled about the room, my mind's eye was transported back to the days when he was alive.

The Lord will see us through
The Lord will see us through
The Lord will see us through someday
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
The Lord will see us through someday.

Though I was only a little girl, I intuitively grasped the issues of his work.

Decent men and women were upset that the world did not treat them fairly.
Just because they were black.

Some whites were upset about it too.

I recall seeing pictures of the marches in magazines and on television, and I was deeply touched by what I saw.

 We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand
We'll walk hand in hand someday
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We'll walk hand in hand someday.

These people, some genteel in their formal coats and dress shoes and stylish hats.
Other wearing the plain simple clothes of working folks.
Calmly, serenely, they walked in steady streams.
The sound of their footsteps often punctuated by spiritual songs
As if they were coming home from a morning at church.

You would never guess they were fighting against evil.

But even as a tiny child, I knew they were.

We are not afraid We are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We are not afraid today.

And today, though we still have a ways to go before we completely overcome the dark powers of racial inequality, the truth is that we have come a long, long way since the days of Dr. King.

But sometimes, I wonder if we have lost track of the truth that racism is a spiritual battle.

Dr. King knew that it was.

He invoked the power of the pulpit and prayer in his pursuit of peace.
His speeches convey the lilting cadence of God talk.
His Biblical references and spiritual imagery flow freely.

And sometimes, I wonder if we have forgotten that.

So today, on this day that celebrates the life of this courageous and remarkable man, I pray that we remember and lift up equality as not a political issue or an ugly argument about white privilege.

I pray that we remember what Dr. King taught us - that racism is evil, and only God can truly set us free from its wicked grasp.

And I pray that someday, we will indeed live in peace.

We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace someday
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We shall live in peace someday.


* * * * *

More reflections on this special man:

MLK Day Musings

Friday, January 15, 2016

Blogging From The Heart

See all the strong,solid skyscrapers standing shoulder to shoulder along the Seattle waterfront? 
They represent the big-time, money-making bloggers of this world

Now look for the tiny triangular tip of the quirky little Smith Tower, just barely visible in a tiny gap between the big boys, comically insignificant yet happily doing its own little thing. 

That, my friends, is my blog. Diane Again.


Exactly four years,
1461 days,
1269 blog posts,
and just over 200,000 page views ago,

I started writing this blog.

That represents a whole lot of hours - most of them after midnight - spent editing pictures, looking for links, and huddling over my keyboard to work out my stories.

Every single minute has been a joy.

I write because I love to write. Setting down my daily stories sharpens my ability to understand my own life, brings me fresh insights, and scratches my creative itch.

Rather than scribble away in a private journal, I share my thoughts with you because that's what humans do - we tell each other stories and recognize our own lives in one another's words.

I am thankful for everyone who encourages and supports my work. I don't collect many comments on my posts, but the people who take the time to comment on my links, message me, or share feedback when I bump into them at the grocery store, mean the world to me.

I really appreciate hearing from anyone who takes the time to read. It makes me happy to hear how my words affect your life.

* * * * *

My blog is a little blog in an internet landscape where giant blogs roam. I read just a handful of big-time bloggers but even so, I've noticed a sad trend. Most every author has recently written about their experience of losing the thrill of blogging, about going flat, about desiring to get back to what made them love blogging in the first place.

And all of those dissatisfied folks make the same resolution - to get back to blogging from the heart.

I feel bad for those bloggers but their predicament also makes me smile. Because I even though I don't have

sponsored posts
book deals
speaking engagements
e-courses
or a steady stream of income from my blog,

I have something much better.

Because every single day that I open up a new post and poise my fingers over the keys, I get to blog from my heart.

Which makes me the luckiest blogger of all.

* * * * *

Here's the first blog story I ever wrote. Definitely came from my heart.

Inspiring Impressionism

Hi, my name's Seattle Art Museum but you can call me SAM.

Dreams came true for me this week as I saw with my own eyes some of my favorite Impressionist paintings at the Seattle Art Museum.

As I strolled among the masterpieces and filled my soul with their sparkle and light, my mind traveled back through the decades to the year that I was seventeen.

That's when my senior-in-high-school self signed up for an art history class.

^ Certain artists and paintings generate an electric surge of excitement within me when I see them in person. This one by Degas on his beloved theme of horses was the first piece I saw and delivered quite a jolt.

^ Impressionism was an art movement concerned not so much with working out the precise details of a subject, but quickly capturing a general impression with bold, unblended brush strokes. 


In those days, we called it art humanities, and at my school, this class was touted as the most challenging offering in the entire curriculum. Besides teaching us about frescoes, chiaroscuro and Op Art, Mrs. Rose considered it her privilege and fist-shaking duty to break down our high school hubris and invoke in us a terror for the rigors of college.

Little did she know that her class would teach me three interesting things far beyond the syllabus.

1. Maybe I was ready for the Big World after all.

Up until I took this class, when it came to academics, I was the kind of student who skated by on a sharp memory and a quick mind. With precious little effort, I had always been able to master my classes and bring home top grades.

And while that's a nice skill set, I was also well aware that college was likely to be a deeper pond in which I might not so successfully swim. What I learned from Mrs. Rose was that I was indeed capable of upping my game and meeting her lofty standards. Little did she know that instead of beating me down, her academic rigor gave me waves of confidence that swept me forward into college.

^ The idea of painting peasants at work in an orchard was a revolutionary and shocking idea in 19th century France. Go figure. 

This one hung over my dorm room desk for four straight years.

^ Impressionist painters obsessed over the art of capturing reflected light on water. 
I, for one, am glad for their obsessions. 


2.  It's entirely possible to learn and have fun at the same time.

My shamelessly sassy and oh-so-smart friend, Jeff Miller, happened to attend the class with me. And I must say, we had a blast together. As we slogged through long afternoons of Madonna and Child slides in a darkened classroom, he would lean back over my desk and whisper improvised dialog from the characters in the paintings. His impersonations of other, more serious students in our class were bang-on and snicker-inducing, And when Jeff was particularly feeling his oats, he would drop a pencil on the floor and while ducking down to pick it up, yell out our favorite nickname for our short and stout instructor; "Puaka!"

I know. Taken out of context, those antics sound absurd and adolescent. But there in the back of the classroom, our teenage selves would collapse into snorting giggles and find ourselves completely entertained with our outrageous wit.

Certainly, Mrs. Rose could sniff out troublemakers even in the dark, and she would retaliate by asking either Jeff or me a pointed question about whatever she had just said. Luckily, both of us had the ability to listen as we goofed off, and we compounded her anger with our flawless answers.

In the end, she gave us both As on our report cards. She had to. We killed every test and totally mastered her material. But she also gave us the lowest possible scores for our classroom behavior and contented herself with that punishment. I slow clap her to this very day for that frustrated and entirely futile comeback.

 ^ I've been lucky to see a handful of Van Goghs in my day, and they send shock waves through my soul. This old school work of Dutch tulip fields tells a more restrained color story than his later works, but I love it just the same.  

This one also decorated my dorm rooms throughout my college career. 

^ Up close, this is nothing but a mishmash of green lines and colored blobs. But take one step back, and the chaos transforms to a tranquil meadow in bloom.


3. Art is me.

During my childhood, like all children, I received endless messages, both verbal and nonverbal, about who I was and who I was not. In this way, my parents clearly informed me that I was a person of math and science, and perhaps music. But I was most definitely not an artist. Art, I gathered, did not run in our family, and my occasional requests to foray into that area were met with the message that I was not meant to live in the world of art.

But this art history class - my first formal study of the art world since fourth-grade tissue paper projects - taught me something new about myself. Not only did I seem to have a intellectual knack for understanding art, I felt the fires of passion awaken within me as I took in Caravaggio, David, El Greco, Vermeer and the other masters for the first time.

Especially personal for me were the works of the Impressionists. I loved their landscapes, their still lifes and informal portraiture, their en plein air philosophy and game-changing focus on the beauty of the simple life. I carried that passion far beyond my high school classroom to this very day.

 ^ Impressionist painters typically used a color palette invoking fresh air, fresh flowers and fruits, and a fresh way of looking at the world. Rather than paint the table a single color, Cezanne opted to capture the many tones and hues created by the play of light across the wood. 

^ Outdoor scenes often captured idyllic picnics in dappled shade. Painted hastily on easels, these compositions are perfect example of the Impressionists' preference for working out of doors. 


These are the memories that danced through my mind as I wandered among the Degas and Pissarros, Monets and Renoirs. I am thankful, once again, for a strong-willed teacher whose determination to beat me down actually built me up in life-changing ways, inspired me to pursue a love of art, and made me very much the person I am today.

Thanks, Puaka!

^ Though the overall effect of this painting a bit dark and somber for a typical Impressionist work, the brush strokes in these oysters are classically loose and bold. 

^ Just to be sure that we don't miss the Impressionists' vital sense of playful humor, consider this piece, entitled Mound of Butter.

* * * * *

The works shown are from the Intimate Impressionism exhibit:

The Races | Edgar Degas
George Moore in the Artist's Garden | Edouard Manet
Orchard in Bloom, Louveciennes | Camille Pissarro
Festival in the Harbor of Honfleur | Eugène Boudin
Flower Beds in Holland | Vincent Van Gogh
Meadow | Alfred Sisley
Still Life with Milk Jug and Fruit | Paul Cézanne
Table Set in a Garden | Pierre Bonnard
Oysters | Edouard Manet
Mound of Butter | Antoine Vollon