Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Safe And Sound
Crossing the street toward home, Gracie's mind is on one thing: dinner. 

When I heard the unmistakable sound of a dog barking up ahead, my brain sounded a red alert.

Gracie and I were about to round the corner of our secret building on the back property of our local high school. Surrounded by woods and a wide, smooth, and rarely-used paved lane, on weekends and school holidays such as today, this is a perfect place to let a dog off leash for a romp. 

Which is fine. As long as the dog is friendly.

I pulled my dog's ultra long leash up short as we approached the turn, and sure enough, we stepped around to find a thirty-ish year old couple and their two big dogs. Both pets were off leash, and the woman was holding one of those plastic ball-flinging devices. I shuffled and stamped enough to make sure they heard me, and sure enough, all four heads snapped in our direction.

Which might have been fine.
Before the walk, I fill her bowl and have it ready to go upon our return. 
She wastes no time in digging in. 

Since my dogs have been attacked a handful of times over the years in what appeared at first to be friendly encounters, I now go to great lengths to avoid meeting dogs I don't know. When both dogs are leashed, I keep my dog well out of the other dog's range and that does the trick. But when the other dog is off leash, my always-leashed dog and I are at a serious disadvantage. 

The English sheepdog showed no inclination to meet us, but the Black Lab mix, who stood a bit taller than Gracie, took a bee line toward us.

"Zeus! Come!" Mama called, but guess what. 

Zeus did not come. 

He continued his march toward Gracie and me.

I quickly assessed Zeus's body language:

Eyes locked in on my dog,
Ears back,
Teeth slightly bared,
Tail frozen,
Stiff legs, 
And prickling black hackles standing up along the full length of his neck. 

I recognized the classic signs of a dog in aggressive mode. 

Which was definitely not fine at all.
Her nose does not come up out of the bowl until every last bite is gone. 

With Gracie pressed against my left side, clearly intimidated, I began to slowly back up.

Zeus continued toward us. 

His people were standing and watching, apparently oblivious to their dog's obviously aggressive posture. To be honest, I was terrified.

In the next instant, I was utterly surprised to hear myself speak in a calm yet commanding voice:

"Call off your dog. Now."

Finally the woman acted. Still not seeming to read her dog's behavior, she walked over to where Zeus was backing us up along the lane, and after what seemed like ten minutes rather than ten seconds, grabbed his collar and hauled him back. 

Both my mildly panicked dog and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and booked it away from them as fast as we could. 

Which was absolutely wonderful.
While I get ready to prepare the humans' evening meal, Gracie settles into her favorite post-dinner spot: directly in front of the kitchen sink.

While part of me wanted to give those two a good lecture about the perils of letting dogs off leash who do not come when they are called, I decided instead to share this story with my fellow dog owners as a precautionary tale. 

Please learn the signs of potential aggression as well as the signs of a playful pup. This article provides a nice summary.

Watch your own dog's reaction too; in an unfamiliar situation, our beloved pets can change gears quickly and it's our task to take them out of any encounter that isn't going well. 

Even though we humans often enjoy the social interaction of meeting up with other dogs and their humans, it's worth remembering that these moments can quickly turn from fun to fatal. What matters to me, more than any lovely dogs we may meet along the way, is getting my dog back home, safe and sound. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Valentines For My House

For my money, Valentine's Day comes just when we need it most

The sparkle of Christmas holidays has faded into long, bleak weeks of grey, and our senses have become dulled to the monotony of heavy coats, waterproof shoes, and rain, rain, rain. 

By mid-February, I'm definitely feeling like something has got to give.

I take my first shot at heading off these doldrums by leaving my white and shiny holiday decor in place throughout winter. A few festive touches bring my house a joie de vivre that certainly boosts my spirits and keeps me in a holiday mood. 

Even so, by Valentine's Day, I'm ready for something more

Which is why I'm a big fan of Valentine decorations. 

Doesn't take much. Just a couple pops of red and pink, a few strings of hearts added to the mix, and I feel my blood starting to pump again. No need to spend any money - past years' paper creations give me all the satisfaction I need. 

Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:

^ XO garland from maybe 2014, guarding the last half of the carrot cake under glass. 

Garland made from: 
+ gold spray paint on brown paper grocery bags,
+ shades of red and pink acrylic paint on printer paper
+ red and white baker's twine.

^ Another paper garland, this time using quilled hearts, and an origami ball made by my fourth-born whose fine-motor skills are off the chart. 

Garland made from:
+ printer paper, some white and some watercolored pink
+ pink embroidery floss

Origami made from:
+ colored printer paper

^ Everyone in the family makes some sort of Valentine creation for the others, and we use this family mailbox as our card delivery system. One year, my surprise was the small wooden boxes on top, which were designed to hold a sweet candy stash.

Mailboxes made from:
+ cardboard box that our kitchen light bulbs come in, with the top flaps cut off
+ kraft paper painted in white acrylic paint for mailbox liners
+ printer paper cut with scallops and hole punched for trim
See tutorial here.

Candy boxes made from:
+ wooden trinket boxes found at Michaels
+ heart tissue paper applied with Modpodge
+ sparkles, sequins, and glitter

^ Hearts on a string blend effortlessly with some lingering Christmas baubles and look like I planned them this way all along. 

Heart garland made from:
+ printer paper, some white and some watercolored pink 
+ pink embroidery floss
+ pink pompoms

^ And just to prove I'm not above grabbing a few things at the store, I wrapped the ends of this purchased garland around the maple tree branch / twinkle lights /paper star configuration that I rigged up for Christmas in my dining room window.

Garland made from:
+ a stroll down the Spritz aisle at Target

* * * * *

My Valentine decor is basic, for sure. Neither expensive nor elaborate, still, it's just what my spirit needs for a mid-winter pick-me-up. Giving my house a little extra love is well worth the effort, and my home sweet home will always be my Valentine. 

* * * * *

More sweet whisperings of Valentine love:

Friday, February 14, 2020

Tulalip Tribes

Not so many years ago, Native Americans lived on the land where my house now stands. 

The Coastal Salish tribes spread up and down the Puget Sound, along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and up into the Strait of Georgia to the north. Settling near the ever-present coast, the people thanked the land for the bountiful food that sustained them: shellfish, berries, roots and greens, and of course, the salmon. The majestic cedar tree provided housing, boats for fishing, clothing, baskets, mats, and most every other essential of daily life. The Natives lived in abundance and peace, sharing a common language called Lashootseed, living communally in longhouses, and teaching their younger generations through songs and stories. 

That life changed forever in 1855 with the Treaty of Point Elliot. The United States government laid claim to the lands around Puget Sound and backed the tribes onto reservations. Along with the presiding government dignitaries, Chief Seattle and a couple dozen other tribal leaders signed the documents with an X, and that was that. 

Point Elliot lies in the heart of Mukilteo. The treaty that robbed the Coastal Salish of their home was signed a few miles from my home. The natives who lived here in Mukilteo, the Snoqualmie Tribe, were moved to the Tulalip Reservation about twenty miles north of here, along with a handful of other local tribes. They live there to this day. 

Look, I'll be honest. I'm completely ashamed at the way my ancestors, my countrymen, treated our native people. When I first learned about treaties and reservations in grade school, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.I felt sick to my stomach to think how the United States set out to systematically obliterate the culture of these people, without ever taking the time to learn from them or even understand them. 

So when my fourth-born proposed that we pay a visit to the Tulalip Tribes' Hibulb Cultural Center, the old familiar queasiness rushed to my gut. I dreaded the stories I would encounter there, the ugly truths about my people. But after a bit more thought, I decided that the best way to show my respect to the local natives, who since time began guarded the place that would become my home, would be to learn more about them.

So. Last Friday, off we went.

^ Sitting under the green spires of evergreens and alongside a healthy creek, the Cultural Center looks quite at home in nature. Native plants and curving walkways made me feel connected to the earth even as I walked in from the parking lot, and I felt like I was starting off on the right foot.

^ The cedar tree is central to the Costal Salish tribes' way of life, and is well represented at the Cultural Center. For starters, much of the building's exterior is covered in gorgeous cedar planks. Just like my roof at home.

^ The heart of the Cultural Center, just as it was in the Natives' original way of life, is the longhouse. This replica showcases the traditional construction of solid cedar. Every inch of the ceiling, walls, framing, and seating are fragrant, gorgeous, glowing cedar. I found it difficult to capture the spirit of the long house through my camera lens, especially while trying to edit out the modern-day additions of speakers, spotlights, and projectors. Even quiet and empty, the room rang with high spirits.

^ When the U.S. government gained the upper hand over the tribes, they outlawed the long house. Existing structures on ceded lands were demolished; no new ones could be built on reservation land. Well. Correction. None were built until 1915, when a forward-thinking Native named William Shelton suggested to the US powers that perhaps the Tulalip Tribes might be allowed to build a long house in order to properly celebrate the upcoming sixty-year anniversary of the Point Elliot Treaty. He was granted permission. Clever man.

If I've got the story straight, Mr. Shelton constructed much of that first longhouse himself, and lovingly carved four cedar poles to adorn the room. The original structure is gone now, but his poles live on in the Cultural Center's longhouse and I was thrilled to see them.

^ Long boats, another key feature of Coastal Salish life and gift from the cedar tree, line the hallway that runs through the Cultural Center. I could hear the waves lapping at the side of the hull and see the fish flapping in the bottom of the vessel as the traps were emptied to be carried back to camp.

^ We spent hours poring over the exhibits. I loved the visual displays that focused on two central elements of the tribes' pre-contact lives: the salmon and the cedar. I was also charmed by this photo of Shelton's daughter, Harriette Shelton Dover, dressed in traditional clothing and standing by one of her father's handcarved poles, looking at a 1938 copy of Life magazine featuring actress Carole Lombard on the cover. 

At the other end of the spectrum, I was disturbed to learn about how the U.S. government forced the native children into boarding schools and used that institution to break the family unit and destroy the culture. They almost succeeded. 

The actual Treaty of Point Elliot is also on display, on loan from the National Archives. Protected by a framed case and a thick layer of glass, the words of the treaty aren't legible but the signatures are. All the anger and anguish I've ever felt about the injustices to our native people came to a boiling point as I stood and examined the names of the Native leaders who made their mark in good faith, and the government officials who surely knew that they were making promises that would not be kept. To think this monstrous moment took place at my hometown beach, a place that I associate with fun and freedom and the glory of my charmed life, well, that really makes me sad. 

And mad.

But as my daughter and I finally left the Cultural Center and walked back toward the parking lot, my mood softened. I hadn't noticed it when we arrived, but towering over my car was a massive cedar tree. Still a youngster by coastal standards, this tree is the embodiment of everything that the Tulalip Tribes, and my very own Snohomish Tribe, stood for, a proud and self-sustaining symbol of their pre-contact way of life. 

The U.S. government stripped the Natives of their land, and tried to take away their culture, their identiy, their traditions, their language, their dignity. 

But just like the mighty cedar, I'm glad to say that the Tulalip Tribes are still standing tall. 

I Love You To The Moon And Back

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my daughters were little girls. 

Clever little girls, of course, and also artistic, creative, and playful.

That sounds like bragging, but then again I believe that all children are artistic, creative, and playful. It's only when the world drags us away from our true selves and lulls us into apathy that we lose those gifts.

These Valentines are the product of my second-born's wild genius. When she was in middle school - probably eleven or twelve years old - she came across these photos of the moon landings and let her imagination run wild. She sewed, glued, and stickered them to her sweet satisfaction, and then gave all three to me.

Today as I was sorting through my stash of old Valentines, I came upon these cards and looked at them with fresh eyes. I'll never part with them, these precious gifts of untamed creativity, and I'll always marvel at the magic of childhood.

* * * * *

More stories for Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Three Stories From An Afternoon At The Art Museum

1. Reading the Fine Print

When I walked into the first gallery space at the Columbus Museum of Art, I was seriously underwhelmed.
Day by Day Good Day by Peter Dreher

To my right, I saw six small canvases painted in monochromatic tones, each one much the same as the next in its snoozing simplicity.
zip: 10.01.03...12.31.03by Yuji Agematau

And on my left, I saw three rectangles, each with five rows of narrow Lucite shelves, on which were neatly arranged small packets of what looked like junk. 

These were not the sort of objects d'art I was hoping to encounter. And I was disappointed. 

Until I read the information posted on the wall nearby.
No. 2631 (Night)

On each one of the canvases was painted a glass of water. In his studio, the artist had painted this same mostly half-full glass of water over and over, day after day, until he had painted it over five thousand times. He's been at it since 1974 and apparently still going strong.

Through this filter of discipline and practice, I now saw the beauty in the work. Whereas before the paintings had all looked more or less the same, I now could see the differences. I noticed the subtle gradations in color, the ever so slightly varying amount of water, and the range of reflection offered in each composition. What had once seemed dead now came alive for me, and I imagined the range of emotions the artist must have experienced on different days, sometimes happy to greet his glass of water, other times bored to tears, maybe even furious with himself for starting this experiment that he now couldn't' bring himself to stop.

And yes, I fell in love with the glass of water paintings.
The grey shape at the top of the image is the shadow of the packet standing on the shelf above. 

"Come read this," my daughter's voice broke through my reverie. She pointed at the information card posted on the opposite wall 

And so I stepped back across the gallery to revisit the weird little things on the Lucite shelves. 

Well. It seems that each rectangle represents a monthly calendar, the shelves defining the rows of the weeks. And each clear plastic packet - which was actually the cellophane wrapping from a package of cigarettes - contained the findings of the artist's daily walk around his New York City neighborhood. What looked like trash had became this man's treasure, and in my mind's eye, I could see our artist picking up each brightly colored bit or bob, turning it over in his probably grubby fingers, and deciding Yes! This one's a keeper.

The ingenuity and stark beauty of his display method simply blew me away. 

Grateful for the fine print that helped me understand these first two pieces and buoyed with newfound enthusiasm, I walked into the next gallery.
The architecture of the building - part old and part new - lent excitement and drama to my visit.

2. Don't Make Me Choose

As we wandered through the heart of the contemporary art collection, my eye was delightfully entertained. 

An exhibit of pieces from the Vietnam War era
A room full of soaring portraits
Each space edited with a firm aesthetic and playful touch. 

I took a million photos and sat for long stretches on the thoughtfully positioned benches, contemplating just what it was that made me love each work of art. And I played the game that I often use to amuse myself in art museums, I decided to choose my favorite piece. 

Near the back of the penultimate room, I came across this piece and in a heartbeat, declared it my favorite.
I'm still looking for the name of this piece and her creator. She's awful cute.

Vivid color,  sharp geometric shape, three-dimensionality - this little baby made my heart sing the moment I laid eyes on it. Surely nothing could top this. She was definitely my favorite. 

But just when I thought my choice was certain, I turned around and stumbled into this.
Topographic Landscape by Maya Lin

Filling half the room, this rollicking ocean of fiberboard waves was inspired by the rolling Ohio landscape where the artist grew up. It's a huge piece, and I walked round and round it, mesmerized by the fresh perspective I gained with each step. 

Perfect in every way. 
And completely different from my other favorite.

Well. I sat down in a spot where I could look at both, and I stewed over this quandary for quite some time. 

And in the end, I decided that my game was silly. There's no need to pick a favorite after all.
We were very happy to be inside with the art and not out there in the raindrops and blustery wind.

3. Hat Trick

I'd been wandering for hours, soaking up the beautiful intensity of the art, and now I were nearly wrung out of emotion and energy. Just one room at the end of the wing to go, and then it was time for a snack. Expecting to find just a few quiet pieces to wrap up what had already been a splendid tour, my daughter and I dutifully stepped into the last gallery space. 

And we were blown away.
Freefall II by Antony Gormley

Imagine a giant bundle of shiny looping wire suspended from the ceiling. Looks pretty cool. Now notice that the entire contraption is slowly rotating, and as the angles change, suddenly a human form materializes. And get this - the person is upside down, apparently trapped in the midst of the wiry trap. And if that isn't wild enough, he is greeting us with a wave.
La Vecchia Dell'Orto by Frank Stella

Now envision, if you dare, a giant confabulation of magnesium, aluminum, canvas, and fiberglass. A riot of colors splash across the surfaces of crazy geometric cut-outs, sometimes applies with robotic precision, other times apparently straight from the spray can of a harried graffiti artist. The separate elements seem to be tossed together willy-nilly, overlapping here, gapping there. There seems to be mostly chaos and very little order in this three-dimensional montage of wild. And the piece is huge - almost 14 x 16 feet. But if you sit down in the red chairs positioned right in front of this invention, it will eventually begin to purr like a kitten and calm you. It may even put you right to sleep.
The side view of the Stella and a glimpse the upside down man.
Marias by Deborah Butterfield

Look, this one seems easy. It's a horse made out of driftwood. Granted, she has a crazy long neck and the legs are a little slim but this one seems pretty straightforward. Until you go up and read that card on the wall that says "cast bronze." What? No. That can't be right. I can see with my own two eyes that it's driftwood. And then a docent floats by and you hear her explain that the piece was originally crafted from driftwood, but then a mold was made and yes, filled with bronze in some crazy complicated process that bronzing requires. So the finished effect looks like driftwood, but is actually bronze. How amazing is that?

And then the same docent explained that back in the day, not too many years ago, before dear Marias was cordoned off, children used to flock to her and run in happy circles in and out underneath her and between her legs. How I wish I could have seen that.

We stayed in this magical place for a long, long time.  Other patrons came and went as my daughter and I sat on the red couch and drank in the rarefied air of this trio. 

Then we went to the cafe and I ate the biggest club sandwich I have ever seen. What a perfect way to wrap up our afternoon at the art museum. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Open To All

On a wintry wet Monday in Columbus, Ohio, my second-born and I decided to go exploring at the library.

^ Our first impressions were fantastic. This grand old lady, who dates back to 1873, stretched far and wide across her palatial lawns on Grant Avenue, and despite the bone-chilling breeze, we lingered to take in her regal and dignified beauty.

^ "Open to All." I slammed to a dead stop on the stairs as my eye fell on those words. I wondered who exactly the designers were thinking of when they chiseled those words in marble above the door. 

Maybe farmers with muddy boots.
Maybe children who would skip and run down the hallways, and forget to use inside voices.
Maybe the descendants of runaway slaves who'd come to town on the Underground Railroad and decided to put roots down here. 

Or maybe some prophetic soul knew that in a hundred years, homeless people would flock here to find a warm place to sit and be. 

 With these questions swirling through my mind, I pushed open the door and stepped inside.

^ In an instant, I was swept back though the centuries. Marble columns, arches, filigrees, pedestals, walls, and mosaics wrapped around me from floor to ceiling. The effect was overwhelmingly grandiose.

^ The staircases, also, were sublime.

^ I saw no books anywhere in sight, but what I did find was art. Large and small paintings, sculpture, African masks, jewelry, collage, photography. This oversize take on a classic View Master caught my attention right away.

^ After inspecting every bit of art I could find, it was this suspended sculptural creation that was my favorite. The mash up of old and new, and the beautiful symmetry of the setting around the installation really did it for me. 

Still no books anywhere in sight. But after a bit more snooping around, we discovered this library's secret.

^ Behind the marble facade of the original reading room, as it was so charmingly named, lies the beating heart of the modern library.

^ Three stories of modern spaces, renovated as recently as 2015, square off against the original building to form a glorious atrium. Two sets of stairs - one a solid bulwark and the other an airy artwork, move patrons to and fro. The orange column that juts through all three floor ties the space together.

^ The collection of modern art continued on through the newer spaces too. This one, by Kate Spencer Stewart, is called Rake Verb. That title blew my mind; I could not imagine what a rake verb might be but my confusion did not keep me from falling in love with the art.The warm tones of pink and lemony yellow brought a ray of sunshine to the gloomy winter's day.

^  But striking as they were, the paintings couldn't help but play second fiddle to the soaring ceiling, myriad balconies and windows, and gorgeous sunlit spaces within the library walls.

^ We walked around for literally two hours, not in search of anything in particular, just enjoying the different spaces, views, and ever-changing light.

^ Eventually, my daughter and I landed in a gathering of four blue chairs parked by a framed quilt that captured the essence of city back in the day when the library first opened. As I sat and stared at the tiny details, those words again, "Open to All" jumped out at me from the left center of the art. 

I'm still not sure who those founders were referring to, back in the day, when they made their proclamation. But based on the number of apparently homeless men and women I saw, quietly resting and relaxing in the library today, I can promise them that their sentiment is alive and well. 

And if you should ever happen to come visit at the main library in Columbus, I'm sure you'll be welcome too. This place truly is open to all.

* * * * *

Who on earth would choose to go to the icy Midwest during the darkest days of winter? 
I do, and I invite you to read all about it. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Behind My Back

I was feeling mighty pleased with myself.

I was taking a photo in my family room. The photo's main purpose was to show my second-born that the Stendig calendar she'd given me for Christmas had been properly updated to the new month. A few days earlier in Columbus, Ohio, I'd helped her tear away her identical calendar page for January and I wanted her to see that I was now up to date as well.

As I prepared the shot, I realized that there was one thing missing from my scene - something that would take my photo from good to great. And as if she could read my mind, Gracie ambled into the room, precisely positioned herself on the couch right in front of me, and settled back into her nap.


I could not have posed her any better if I'd tried, and her fuzzy presence was the icing on my photographic cake.

Feeling very much the master of my domain, I snapped the picture.

And then I turned around.

To find my cats running amok in the kitchen.

As his brother, Sirius, looked on from the safety of his perch on a counter stool, halo firmly in place, my darling Luna stood on the forbidden kitchen counter, brazenly licking the coconut oil out of a cast iron skillet.

Now this wasn't exactly a Chernobyl-scale disaster. One abrupt "Hey!" from me sent the two cats skittering out of the room and up the stairs to their lair, and in two minutes' time, I'd scrubbed the pan clean and re-seasoned it with a fresh layer of coconut oil.

Just to be safe, I stashed the pan in the oven for safekeeping. Let's see those clever felines figure out how to get their greedy little tongues on it now. .

But more important than damage control, what this interlude reminded me is that my pets, just like small children, traffic jams, and porch squirrels, are wildly unpredictable and any time I think I've got them under control is when they are ready to humble once again.

Because I never know what my pets will be doing behind my back.