Trying Out: Washington State History Museum (Week 50)

Trying Out: Tacoma’s Historic Past (Week Fifty)


When my friend and I were attending the Jet City Show, we drove past a rather spiffy looking building.  Tacoma is all well and good as cities go, but I had not planned to take in any architectural wonders.  My friend and I are both history buffs.  When we saw that the majestic building was also a history museum?  We immediately made plans to return to Tacoma to visit the Washington State History Museum.

A month or two later and we returned.  We had no expectations what was in store for us.  We simply wanted to look at old things and learn a thing or two.  We went on a quiet Wednesday around noon, planning to avoid any crowds.  (Which we did.  At no point were there more than two people in an exhibit with us.  Hooray for weekdays.)

We were charged a reasonable enough fee at the admissions desk and we picked up a map of the place.  That staff instructed us that there were exhibits open on the third and fifth floors.   The rest was closed.  The gift shop was closed, but would be open later.

That information struck me as a bit odd.  Five floors, but only two are available?  My experience in museums says you only have one section closed at a time.  How does their gift shop make any money if it is closed?  It was a bit curious.


Plenty of room for more names

Then I glanced at their donor wall and it made a bit more sense.  I think they were expecting a few more contributors to display on their wall.

I do not know what the intent behind the layout was.  Perhaps they wanted crowds to disperse as they came in.  I can tell you that the floor was quite non-linear.  If one ventured straight ahead, they were taken to a plank house (circa early-1800s?).  If they went to the right, they would be taken to the native and indigenous people section.  If they went to the left, which we did, they were led to a room of people’s journeys.  This person came from this country back in the 1800s.  This person was famous for that and came in the 1900s.  Wagon trails, scurvy, laws dictating which countries immigrants were banned; all sorts of “Welcome to Washington” information.

(That was my first lesson.  I had thought we were going to something like a “Tacoma History Museum”.  Nope.  We were in the Washington State History Museum.  The whole state was up for grabs.  Surprise!)

The floor had the same highlights as other museums I had visited earlier.  Learn about the topography.  Learn about those that came first.  Learn about the first settlers.  Get log cabin.  Set up shop.  Mining and metal work come into play.  Cut down trees and catch fish.  Build a society.  Women get the vote.  World War II.  The Bomb.  Boeing.  Microsoft.

At this part I was reminded of the downside of hitting all the museums in one year.  The introductory information all feels the same.  (Seattle Underground is the stand out.  By far the best history experience if you want a slightly different, living-history journey.)  My eyes started to glaze over, making it harder for me to look for new information.  I had my prejudice; the, “I already know all this” voice in my head.

My shushed my bias.  I wanted to learn, darn it.  I kept reading and took in some of the stories.  I was reminded how big a risk it had been for the first settlers.  Immigrating across an ocean.  Starting off with whatever you could fit in a suitcase with no hopes for resupplying.  Taking children along.  Risking one’s health.  And that was all with the assumption that whatever your plan for farming or livelihood was would pay off.  If it did not work out, you could not hop on a bus and go back to your old job.

The displays were fine.  The information was interesting.  But it would have grabbed me more if I had not gone through it all several times before.  (I suppose history can only be presented so many ways.)

If possible, the fifth floor’s layout was even more scattered than the third.  The map we had showed an area as open, but it was roped off.  Folks coming simply for the train layout or the kid’s section had a lot of weaving and searching of hallways.

IMG_0106_(800x461)[1]We looked at paintings that a Chinese man did while he was locked in an internment camp.  After some wandering and a few missed turns, we found ourselves in the Russian/ Cold War area.

It was interesting to see one more display of nuclear bomb shelters and propaganda.  However this display took it a little further.  They had a case of Cold War games.  Now kids could join in on the worrying and destruction.  Bring your missiles with you, Timmy!  That led into the cosmonauts section.  It was nice to read about air programs helping each other.  Seattle and Russia apparently got along better than U.S. and Russia.  We have a signed cosmonaut helmet as proof.

IMG_0128_(800x239)[1]That let to the Goodwill Games.  I remembered those growing up as a kid.  (You could get little plastic metals and medallions in your boxes of cereal.  Collect them all!  Oh cereal boxes; you used to be cool.)  I recognized the team colors.  The logos brought back memories.  (Anybody else watch Ruskies growing up?  Anyone?)  It was nice, not only to take a trip down memory lane, but to remember when politics and athletics helped us all to play nice with each other.

And then, we found their signature draw.  Way, way, way in the back was their permanent train set.  I understood why it has such a reputation.  It took up the entire wall and must have entailed thousands of hours of painting and gluing and wiring.  I am not a train buff myself.  I know quite a few though.  This train set was built by those with a passion for this stuff.  Why else would they take the time to set up a police scene?  If folks like trains, this would have been the highlight of their trek.train_(1024x287)[1]

Was it the greatest museum ever?  Nope.  Was it the highlight of my week?  No.  I had more fun talking to my friend in the car than going through the exhibits.  That being said, I did learn a thing or two.  I did not learn nearly as much as I had hoped.  However, some information was gleaned.  I am in no great hurry to return, but there is valuable knowledge to be had.  It was, simply put, fine.

My two cents; do not visit all the history museums back to back.  Give yourself a little time to forget the details so you can learn some things over again.  Then some new details can sneak up on you.


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Trying Out: Ice Sculpting (Week 49)

Trying Out: Watching the Ice Chips Fly (Week Forty-Nine)

Like most people, my experience with ice sculpting revolves around two events.  One: weddings.  Sometimes folks have a fancy centerpiece.  A swan, a flower, whatever looks romantic in a transparent medium.

The second life event: watching Groundhog’s Day.  Oh look, there’s Bill Murray using his repetitive lifestyle to impress Andie McDowell.  Neat.  Give me a life on repeat and I could do that too.

I think we all know that last part is not true.  I thought I should observe a master at work and see what it entailed.  (And Frozen defies a few laws of physics.)

An area I frequent is big into Christmas and holiday events.  One you will hear about two installments from now.  Another crowd-drawer is live ice sculpting.

I was promised a two-hour performance.  I was tardy for the first twenty to thirty minutes.  I reasoned that all I would miss were big blocks of ice being chipped off, making way for the art that resided in the center.

IMG_0080_(800x656)[1]When I arrived, it seemed like the main work had been done.  This sled-shape was present.  The man was using power tools to chip away at pieces here and there; then smoothing them over to change their sheen.  The nearby garbage can was already full of debris.

Honestly, it was more interesting watching the people that were watching the artist.  There was the family over by the staircase that had planned ahead.  They were all sharing a warm pizza from inside as they sat on the cold cement outside.  They watched, ate, and chatted.  It was akin to a family watching a movie together.

The couple to the right of me was engaged in conversation.  Well, the guy was.  I do not want to accuse him of mansplaining, but it certainly resembled that.  He ooh-ed and aah-ed at the technique and style while his female compatriot nodded and agreed.  At no point did it appear clear to me that the male had any real insight as to what he was commenting on.  Yet he spent much time talking about what he thought.

As always, there was an excitable boy in the front.  He was jumping, scurrying, and IMG_0082_(800x631)[1]waving his hands excitedly.  Maybe it was the holiday spirit grabbing hold of him.  Or maybe he really liked power tools.  He was energized, certainly.

Perhaps the most interesting person to watch was the sculptor’s assistant.  Sometimes the tall fellow would shovel off excess ice clumps and shavings.  During momentous times, he would take a warm sheet of metal out and help the sculptor fuse/melt a preformed piece of ice onto the base.  (On the one hand I considered this cheating.  I wanted every piece to be cut from one chunk of ice.  On the other, it was impressive to see the two pieces adhered seamlessly.  It brought back memories of glass blowing)

Yet most of the tall fellow’s time was spent looking at his phone.  For long intervals he would stand off to the side in his seasoned boots, his oven mitts set off to the side.  It took some of the mystery and artistry out of the experience.  Here was his mentor, digging, shaving, and coaxing life out of water.  A few feet away, a fellow artist was… watching videos on a phone.

After about thirty minutes, I felt I had experienced the activity.  I had hoped there would be some glistening bird or a group of carolers huddled together, playfully adorned in frosty scarves and askew hats.  Because of all his work, his toiling, and half an hour of finessing, the artist had produced an almost finished piece.  There, on the stage before me sat a chunk of ice that still bore a resemblance to a sled.

IMG_0079_(588x800)[1]No chainsaws were employed.  (Drat.)  The effort was quite obvious to see.  However it became clear during my visit that this was a spectator sport more like baseball than opera.  Having food to eat or someone to chat with would have filled in the gaps.

It turns out that I am one of those scoundrels that only truly appreciate the finished project.  (It should be stated that the man was working the entire time.  He adjusted and toiled every second to make his vision come into being.)

In other arts I might want a peak behind the curtain.  When it comes to ice sculpting my appreciation is similar to movies.  I do not need to see every camera angle and take.  Put the completed ice-swan on the table and move on to the next scene.

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Trying Out: Audio Book (Week 48)

Trying Out: Dickensian Narration (Week Forty-Eight)

Once upon a time I tried to dispose of a mouse.  You know how it goes.  You go to work, you find a mouse in a trap, and you want to save your boss a call to pest control.

You kneel down, start to open up the trap, and whoosh.  Out runs the little four-legged troublemaker.  Victory goes to the fleet of feet.

Not that long after, I came across another trap.  This time, I was pretty sure the mouse was dead.  So I—

What?  Disposing of my first dead mouse is off-putting?  It was an epic tale!  No?  Okay.

For a few months now I have been working on my podcast.  Divvying up Aesop’s Fables into digestible chunks is all well and good.  However, I wanted a change of pace.  Something that would be challenging.  Something that would be festive.  And I do love Charles Dickens.

a-christmas-carolI decided to make an audio book of A Christmas Carol.  I have seen numerous adaptations, but none of them have included all the glorious descriptions.  (I get why people like Scrooged.  But to a Dickens purist, the experience is maddening.)

Sure, there are radio drama versions already out there and plenty of audio books to choose from.  (The joys of public domain property.)  But my version is unabridged and free!

I planned it in advance.  The novel is just around one hundred pages; not a gargantuan task.  Yet, a guy’s voice only lasts for so long.  The entire podcast, split up into five sections, added to up two and a half hours.  Multiply that by two or three times for editing chores.

There were burps.  There was a hungry cat that liked to meow and scratch at the door.

“Though Christmas has never put a MEOW MEOW MEOW”.

You see my dilemma.  There was the upstairs neighbor tromping around and the next door neighbor slamming his front door.

When I read aloud I try to change voices just enough so that the conversation does not come across as static or dull.  And my English accent could use some work.  My Dickensian era, London-based, elderly woman of base means?  Her voice was not perfect.  It slipped into an Irish accent.  And her cohort’s responses warped into some sort of Scottish/Russian travesty; which only made for more editing fun.

However, it all got done, and ahead of schedule.  I was able to release all five parts at once.  No waiting, no delaying; one full book ready for folks to hear.

king-ratI cannot be everywhere my family is.  I have nieces on one coast and nieces and a nephew on the opposite one.  A guy can only travel so much.  Now, though, I can tell them a bedtime story.  Granted, it is one full of dislocated jaws, ghostly visitors, children that die, and threats of dark graves, but it is still a story.

Perhaps I should reenact The Nutcracker and give them nightmares of giant Rat Kings.  Traumatizing, but seasonal?  Then again, maybe telling them about dead mice would be less traumatizing. 

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My Hugging Ministry

My church often encourages us to use our talents for God.  This is most visible through a whole lot of quilts.  There are quite a few volunteers who visit with each other while making rather fancy quilts.  The quilts are then given to nearby hospitals.  The staff and volunteers there distribute the quilts to patients undergoing cancer treatment who have difficulty staying warm. 

Quilts-benchesPersonally, I lack any quilting skill.  I may craft a cross-stitch project every once in a great while.  I can certainly mend a shirt that has fallen on hard times.  I can make do, but quilting is not where my passion lies. 

I always thought that my contribution would come across in writing.  I fancy myself a storyteller.  I feel most like what God called me to be when I am working on a keyboard.  (This is not to suggest that my writings are brilliant or heavenly.   Just like me, my writing is a work in progress.)

I have found that I am a competent hugger.  Cats, people that are homeless, parents; I hug them.  I am not the first to embrace this ideology.  There is a woman, Amma, The Hugging Saint.  She hugs.  We each have our own approach.

Now and then I will wear a button on my jacket.  (I take it off when I do laundry and sometimes it takes me a while to put it back on.)  I rarely smile or exude warmth from my expression.  So the invitation to engage me comes from a small piece of metal.  And yes, I take some flak for the button. 

“Free hugs?  Sounds like trouble.”  “Free hugs?  Watch out ladies.”  I am not a creep.  I am not a sexual predator.  Calm down, folks.  If you are not in need of a hug, then go about your merry way and God bless.  There are plenty of people that enjoy a hug.  This appears to be true in this holiday season.

-About a month ago I was walking briskly downtown.  The ground was slippery from rain and I was scurrying to make my bus.  Between the crowds, my aversion to signature collectors, and trying not to slip, I am sure I had a “leave me be” look.  However, a man stood in my path.  It was apparent he was set on engaging me.  I tried to walk past him, but then I heard him say, “Free hugs?”  I stopped in my tracks and turned around.  At least, that was the idea.  My foot hit a slick patch and I found myself on the ground.  I shrugged it off, picked myself up, and gave this man a hug.  I could not hear much above the bustle of city life, but he said something about free hugs being worth something, as opposed to all the other “free” offers out there.

-I caught my bus.  I sat in the back corner.  A seat and a half away, a very large man sat near me.  I read my comic book, he talked to his wife; we left each other to their activities.  Then I heard him say, “Free hugs?”  He held his arms out, I leaned over, and we embraced.  After that we shook hands.  Then we fist-bumped.  The large man, just like me, liked to be in physical contact with others.

3892-teddy-bear-couple-hug-Last week I was scurrying through downtown and passed a man sitting on a street corner.  He had a small bundle of things by him.  He looked glum his feet were bare.  I did not feel moved to do much more than acknowledge his presence with a glance, so I made my way to the intersection.  From over my right shoulder I heard a voice say, “Free hugs?”  I looked around, expecting it to be one of the businessmen or fellow bus-riders around me.  Instead, there was the homeless man looking at me with desperation.  I gave him a hug.  A few seconds passed.  Then he came in for another hug.  I asked if he needed anything. He only hugged me tighter.  We let go.  Until he hugged me a third time.   I quietly said, “I got you”, and let him share in a little physicality with another person.  After the last hug he went back to his daily routine and I went about mine.  It did make me wonder; how much human interaction does he get?  If someone needs to fill that gap, I am happy to help.

When I wear a button like mine, it forces me to play nice.  If I rage at someone for playing a guitar on the bus or talking too loud on their cellular phone, that is not ideal.  Now, if I did that while wearing a “Free Hugs” button?  It sends a mixed message. 

Even on my worst day, I do not want to be a hypocrite.   When I get my dander up or one of the thousands of people around me rub me the wrong way, my button nudges me to play nice.  It reassures me.  Sure, that person is being a little inconsiderate, and yeah, it would be nice if that driver had tried a little harder not to run me over at the intersection.  Yet I would still hug them if they asked.

I have no great solution to cure homelessness.  I have no bargaining powers to assist strife between nations.  I do not have the therapy degree to help couples that struggle in their marriage or people that are overworked.  I simply hug.  Old men who are a year away from retirement, nieces, and coffee drinkers; I hug them all and more besides.  If people stare or mock my button, so be it.  If Jesus could show his love by hanging out with prostitutes and hugging small children, I think I can see my way to hugging anyone who asks. 

“Love your neighbor.”  I have plenty of neighbors left.  Plus, once people know what I offer, I get a fair bit of repeat customers.  I may not look as warm as a quilt, but I make do.

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Trying Out: Art Gallery (Week 47)

A/NT Art Gallery (Week Forty-Seven)

I strolled into what I thought I was a small, unassuming, independent art museum.  What I did not realize until I entered was that I was in an art gallery.

It was a slightly different experience to walk around, see little prices typed by the artist’s name, and realize that any of those pieces could have gone home with me.  I started to approach each piece I liked with, “Yes, but do I like it enough to pay for it and see it every day?”


Whimsical, sure. But is it “must have”?

I also had to adjust to the rapid-turnover/ constant need to change the setup.  Every piece was ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice.  The art one saw this week might not be there the next.

There were several different sections.  One area was created by high schoolers.  (Those teenage students have much more artistic skill than I do.)  There were plenty of pieces that I liked, but my apartment is already decorated by Bierstadt, Rockwell, and Hopper.  It is a tough crowd to compete with.  Yes, you can buy an original.  However I would rather have a print of brilliance than a one-of-a-kind, “Interesting”.


Fun to see, but also pricey. (And where would you put it?)

Speaking of interesting.  Oy.  The second-to-last room I entered had a curtain in front of it.  They clearly knew there would be some crowds that would not want to see what was inside.  Nudity is one thing.  The human body, the human form; those I understand.  (I still prefer landscapes to people.  To each art lover, their own.)  This room was not decorated with my tastes in mind.

In the interest of keeping this blog PG-13, I will go light on the details.  However, between the pentagrams, the naked woman having sex with a wolf, and other creations along those lines, I scurried out of there rather quickly.  Many of the pieces were clearly created by talented individuals.  The colors, the depictions; they were all quite graphic.  (In many senses of that word.)  Personally, I prefer my art to avoid bestiality.  However, if their goal was to elicit an emotional reaction or challenge my boundaries, then they succeeded.

Happily, the next room was full of bright colors.  Columns of balloons were photographed in front of bridges.  Yay for not ending on a dismal note!  I returned to a pair of paintings and a bear that I had seen before but wanted to take in again.  Then I scurried back out into the real world. 


Color! Hope! Yay!

There were some fascinating sights in there.  There were some things I would not have made space for if I were in charge.  And there were some things that I thought would make nice conversation pieces.  There was a little of column A, a bit of row B. 

As a bonus, museums cost money, but galleries are free.  (That is, unless you go home with a few canvases under your arm.  Ah, the high price of art appreciation.)   

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Trying Out: Other Work Sites (Week 46)

Trying Out: Leasing Myself Out (Week Forty-Six)

I have had the same job for fourteen years.  I had no desire to work up the corporate ladder.  A few dollars more an hour is not enough for the amount of responsibility (and night shifts) I would take on.  I liked the people I worked around, so why risk getting moved around on the company’s “development plan”?  No, I am paid enough.  I liked seeing the regular customers.  I stayed put.

That is, until the hours became slim.  I asked for thirty to thirty five hours a week.  (More would be nice, but I am not greedy.)  For the last few months, I had been scheduled twenty or so hours.  I took some vacation, I kept quiet, but so did my bank account’s balance.

I work for a rather large company.  Other work sites were not far off.  So, for the sake of trying something new (and because my cat like to eat), I loaned myself out to another location.

I had nothing to prove.  If asked, I mentioned how long I had been employed. 

(No one likes braggart-boy.  “Oh yeah.  <scratch scratch>  I’ve been around for more than a decade.  <burp>  I  know pretty much everything there is to know.  <scratch>  You need anything, you ask for The Big Man.  That’s me.  <belch>  Would you like me to show you how you’re doing everything wrong?”  Humility works best; especially when you are a guest.)

Happily for everyone, someone I had worked with before was at this location.  If the others had any questions about my abilities, they probably checked in with her.  For the first four or so hours, I was mostly left to my own devices.  Nobody bothered me, nobody hovered.  They checked in on how I was doing once an hour or so.  By and large, they trusted me to take care of things.

The location was not that far from a museum I had visited this year, so I knew there would be some nice scenery to take in on my lunch break.  I walked up to a bench, noticed the goose droppings around me, and shook my head.  Looking up, I saw another bird, perched precariously up in its branch.

“If you could not poop on me, that’d be great”, I said to the birdbrain.

It must have sensed my loathing for it and its ilk.  Not too many minutes later, as I sat and enjoyed the blue sky with nary a rain cloud to be seen, I felt moisture fall on my neck. 

Clearly, not everyone was overjoyed about me visiting a different branch.  Stupid bird.  (It was a small deposit; but still.)

I returned to work, engaged a few customers enjoying their leisurely Saturday, and spent the rest of the day working with my friend.

It was much easier than my normal shift.  It was slower, and I knew if I worked there on a regular basis I would quickly be bored.  Still, I appreciated how much these folks trusted a stranger to work for them.  Trust goes a long way with me.

I proved to myself that I actually do know what I am doing, even in a mildly-foreign element.  Since then, I have worked four shifts in four different stores.  And my old job is still waiting for me, even after I tried something new.

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Trying Out: Digital Comics (Week 45)

Trying Out: E-Comics (Week Forty-Five)

Yep.  More comics talk.

I am old fashioned.  I like the feel of paper it pushes against my finger while I hear it scrape against my skin as I turn the page.  I like seeing a mass of pages to the left of me as the pile of paper to the right gets smaller and smaller.  I like physical books

Regardless, I do not think that digital comics are the be-all, end-all.  I downloaded one for free.  It was a sample, it ran about seven pages, and it was in black and white.  It was created for the medium and it worked fine.

IMG_0056 (800x600)

DC Comics’ Absolute line: The best way to view painted art.

Now, publishers and adapters have tried to make a square-sized peg fit into a round-shaped hole.  Typical tablets are, what, seven inches tall?  It is not unusual for a comic to be eleven inches tall.  DC’s Absolute line is over a foot tall so you can appreciate the art.  (This is especially useful when folks put in lots of detail in painted art, lots of captions, or write captions in lowercase.)

The tablet-solution?  They want you to zoom in a read panel by panel.

<insert sound of blogger’s head slowly catching on fire, spewing liquid magma, and eventually exploding>

That is not how comics are meant to be read.  Panel by panel?  No.  The artist lays out there panels a certain way for a reason.  There is a flow to each page.  They are trying to guide you this way and that.  Sometimes, go figure, they might even use panels that are irregular in shape.  Diagonals!  Head-shaped!  Broken borders.  All of those are rather common.

IMG_0060 (700x800)I understand the appeal for massive storage of simple text.  My Miriam Webster application makes me happy because I do not want to carry around a book that can stand on its own, but I embrace the utility of having a dictionary at hand.  I wanted to read the uncut version of The Stand, and I was glad when I did not have to carry around a hardcover novel with one thousand, three hundred and eleven pages.

But comics?  Art digitized, miniaturized, and re-formatted?

I could not get past it.

Until I found out that one can check out Archie collections from the library

IMG_0062 (800x600)

Tablets: Digest sized

Archie Comics are originally printed in standard comic book size.  However, as anyone who has gone to a grocery store can verify, they are reprinted into digest size.  The art can be shrunk to that size without any real loss of quality.  The writers and artists know that their work will eventually be put in that size.  They adapt.

This year has been a bit of a pill.  Having humor on hand was helpful.  So that one thousand page digest full of Archie humor made for a nice little sanity-break.  I caved.  When I finished, I went online and purchased two.  Now I have two thousand pages of mirth at my ready disposal.

So yes, I have now bought a digital comic.

However, I maintain that this should be the exception, not the rule.  Ninety-nine percent of comics need the room to breathe.  They thrive off the physicality of a real page.  I have nothing against those that publish e-comics.  (Battle Pug is pretty great.)

Yet after all is said and done, I will always default to physical comics.  They simply fit better.

IMG_0057 (800x668)

(Don’t even get me started on Wednesday Comics, a book printed over eighteen inches tall. Bigger than a house pet!)


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