Monthly Archives: September 2017

I Love Glass!

I have always been enamored with glass artwork. I don’t know why; maybe it’s the intense colors or unique shapes they often have. Whenever I am at an art museum or art store, any objects made of glass always catch my eye. And when choosing a piece of original art to buy, I typically gravitate to those made of glass.

But of all the glass artwork that I have ever seen, pieces created by Dale Chihuly are my favorite. If you have never seen any of his artwork, I would highly recommend checking out his website at Chihuly.com.

I think I was first exposed to Chihuly when one of his exhibitions came to an art museum in Memphis. My first experience was incredible, taking this art form to a whole new level for me! Of particular interest was a display of intricately interwoven multi-colored pieces resting on a glass ceiling that you walked underneath. It was amazing!

A number of years went by before I was able to see another one of his exhibitions. I happened to be in Oklahoma City visiting my sister when she suggested we go to an art museum in downtown that happened to have a special Chihuly exhibit. I obviously jumped at the chance and had another thoroughly enjoyable experience.

While at the museum, we also got a chance to see a couple of videos of how Chihuly produces his beautiful pieces. If you have ever seen a picture of Dale Chihuly, you will immediately notice that he wears an eye-patch over his left eye, the result of a car accident many years ago. As a result of this injury, he has lost his stereoscopic vison meaning he has diminished depth perception. But in spite of this disability, Chihuly creates his glass art using a team approach with him as the creator and director. In fact, blowing some of the larger pieces literally could not be done without a team.

In the museum gift shop, I was amazed to see that some of his pieces were actually for sale. But the price for even a medium-sized piece was $15,000, well out of my price range. However, there were several books on his work (much more affordable) that featured some of his large outdoor installations. These photos were absolutely amazing.

My sister noticed my interest in one of these books and since it was close to my birthday, she surreptitiously purchased this one and gave it to me for my birthday.

It was a great gift that I read cover to cover!

Then one year on my annual trip to Amsterdam, I happened to walk past an art store on my way to the Van Gogh museum when I noticed they had Chihuly pieces for sale.

Even in Euros, I still could not afford one but it helped me to decide that my favorite shape of his work was what he called a Macchia, this particular one a bowl within a bowl.

And once looking for furniture at a local modern furniture store, I discovered that among the many furnishings they carried were what became known to me as “fake-Chihuly’s.” And at a price 1/30 the cost of a real Chihuly of similar size, I could definitely afford this (the real artist is Ioan Nemtoi).

This became my favorite piece of glass art that we owned and it enjoyed a prominent location at our home first and then at our condo.

Then in 2013, I got to experience what for me was the grand slam of Chihuly exhibits when my wife, daughter and I toured his Glass House and Garden, right next to the Space Needle in Seattle.

It far exceeded any display I had seen to date. Even the outdoor installations were amazing; my first experience of these.

And incredibly, the glass house was available for renting out for special occasions. Can you imagine having your wedding reception here?

This past July, I got another chance to experience Chihuly art when I went to visit my sisters in northwest Arkansas. While the main reason to drive over was to see my two sisters…

…what tipped the scale for this particular trip was the fact that Crystal Bridges had a special Chihuly exhibit, both indoors and outdoors.

Obviously, the Macchias caught my eye…

…but what was most impressive was a new display I had never seen before, explosions of glass, illuminated with ever changing light colors set to classical music. It was almost as if it were an indoor fireworks display with appropriate “oohs” and “awes” as the colors changed.

The outdoor displays…

…were no less stunning.

The only downside of the outdoor exhibit was the blistering afternoon heat, 95°F in the shade, which made returning to the cool interior of the museum that much more comforting. At night, the outdoor displays are lighted and on Saturday night, they have live music as well. Being a Saturday, we debated about coming back in the evening but ultimately decided we would wait until the fall when cooler evening temperatures would make the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Naturally in the museum gift shop, they had Chihuly pieces for sale, smaller than the ones I remembered seeing in Oklahoma, but much more reasonably priced, although still above my price range even for this one, my favorite.

While the exhibit at Crystal Bridges was not of the same scale as Chihuly’s Glass House in Seattle, Washington (his home state), it was none the less enjoyable. Combined with visiting family and having several great meals together, it was an all-around A+ weekend of art and family time.

Moving

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In 2015, I chronicled all the towns I had lived in during my lifetime as well as shared some of the more significant firsts that I experienced in each of those towns. But an aspect that I did not address in that post to any large extent, was the friends I had to give up each time we moved.

While modern social media and electronic communication tools have allowed me to reconnect to some of these old friends, they can’t make up for the many years of lost opportunity for staying in touch.

While getting the chance to live in different cities throughout your life can certainly broaden your horizons in terms of experiences and even opportunities, I am actually jealous of my wife who has lived in the same town her whole life and still has friends from when she was five years old. And she even got to live in the same town with many of her aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as some of her grandparents.

For someone under the age of 18, the main reason we move is for one of our parents changing jobs. In my case, it wasn’t so much changing jobs as it was changing churches. My father was a Presbyterian minister and so each time we moved was when, as he put it, “we were called to another church.”

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The first time I moved, I was only four years old so I can’t say that I really even had friends at that age that I gave up in moving.

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The second time I moved was in the mid-1960s when I was 10 years old and I certainly did leave friends behind. I had both friends at school and friends in our neighborhood. This was before the age of any electronic devices so most play was highly interactive with other kids outdoors.

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The third time I moved was absolutely the hardest. Not just because of the friends and activities I left behind but also because of what I faced in my new town. I was 14 years old—just barely a teenager—when we moved during the summer between my 8th and 9th grades. At that time, the 9th grade was the upper grade of junior high school (no such thing as middle school then). I walked in the door that September as an outsider. Most everyone else in school had gone to the same elementary schools and so had been friends for eight years already. What would most of them want to have to do with somebody new when they were at the pinnacle of seniority, their “senior” status so to speak?

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It was very difficult to make friends in school that year. I was able to join the school newspaper so I could at least fit in somewhere and was able to make some friends serving in that capacity.

On the other hand, it was very easy for me to make friends at church as everybody knew who I was coming in, one of the PKs (preacher’s kids).

The following year, I started high school where 10th grade was new to all of us. Some groups of friends carried over from junior high school but with other junior high schools feeding into my high school, I was not the only new kid in town. In high school, I mostly made new friends with other kids in my classes of interest, science and math.

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Once I graduated from high school, the whole dynamics changed. No longer was I moving somewhere to make new friends, everyone was moving on—to college.

In spite of graduating with over 650 fellow students, not one of my friends attended the same college as I was enrolled in, Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). But that was OK as everyone in the freshman class was also new to the school.

After graduating college, people scattered all over the country, some returning to their hometowns, some moving onto graduate school in other cities, and some starting jobs throughout the country.

And all this time, college and two different graduate degrees, I stayed in the same town. It was quite ironic that now the roles had reversed and everyone else was moving away leaving me behind.

Even as a married adult, friends have continued to move away to other jobs and other opportunities and yet my wife and I have continued to live in Memphis, for my 35+ year professional career.

My wife wrote a very thought provoking blog post several years ago about friendship foreclosure and how it really takes a tremendous active effort on the part of someone to maintain friendships. I don’t know if I have used the excuse of me moving or other friends moving away to prevent me from having a large number of friends. I am an introvert so it is certainly much easier for me to do something on my own rather than to call up a friend and do something together. At the age of 60, I have two best friends—my wife of 35+ years and my only brother who is a couple of years younger than me—and one long-term dear friend, R, who I still regularly correspond with via e-mail and text.

So moving a lot growing up as well as friends moving away has definitely contributed to me not having many friends at this point in my life. But interestingly, moving is something that we are considering now that I am approaching retirement. We have always lived in Memphis throughout our marriage because that is where my job has been. In spite of numerous work force reductions and company buyouts, my job has remained, at the same location and even in the same building.

But that all changes the day I retire. No longer are we tied to this city because that is where my employment is. We are free to move almost anywhere we want.

My wife and I have already made a list of things we would want in a home and in a town if we were to move after I retire. We drafted this list in 2011, just after our two oldest kids had gotten married. Another “want” that has arisen since we created that list is living close to our grandkids, three so far.

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Not that this is a decision we will rush into or one that will be easy. It will take some time and extensive research. For my wife, it will be a big change since she has never lived anywhere else. As for me, it will be my first move out of town in over 40 years.

But no matter where we move to, we will still have our midtown condo to come back to be able to visit with friends and family in town. And in our new home, we plan to live near family as well. Because even though friendships have developed and then waned over the years due to my moving and theirs, our family will always remain.

Mom’s Photo Albums

In addition to my dad’s sermons that I brought home from my sister’s house last year, another item was a box of my mom’s old photo albums. My first task was to organize all of my dad’s sermons and once I completed that, I began to go through the old albums with the intent of scanning them to create digital copies. There was a box of loose photos and five separate photo albums. The loose photos and albums scanned the period from the early 1960s to 1996, an almost 40 year period ending just three years before my mom died. It turned out to be a trip down memory lane going through them all with some wonderful discoveries along the way; images that I never knew had even been captured on film.

This is a school photo I found of myself from when I was in the 5th grade. I didn’t even recall seeing it before so it was a special find.

And here is one of our whole family taken at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was amusing to see how young all of us looked in the early 1960s.

The album from 1970 was so old that I was afraid I would destroy the photos trying to get individual photos out to scan. So I just scanned the entire pages.

This first page captured a visit of my aunt, uncle, and cousin when they came to see us soon after we moved to Memphis. It was a bitter sweet memory when I viewed this page as almost as soon as they returned home after this trip, my cousin became gravely ill with hepatitis and spent many weeks in the hospital before thankfully making a full recovery but then almost within days of returning home, my aunt died of a brain hemorrhage. To further sadden this memory, my cousin, who was just a year younger than me died of a sudden heart attack before he even reached the age of 50.

The picture on the bottom right is actually the one happy memory as it is of me in my bedroom where I spent many an hour building car models just as I was captured doing in this photo. But certainly tempered by the sad events that unfolded soon after that visit.

Also included in that album was a photo of my uncle sitting on my motorcycle at his home in Texas. I sold it to my cousin after we moved to Memphis as I never licensed it in Tennessee because of concerns about me driving it in Memphis, a much busier traffic city than the one from which we had moved which had a population of less than 10,000.

This is the only other photo I thought existed of my old motorcycle.

This is an even older image…

…one of my brother and I when we bought a mini bike that preceded the motorcycle. With our paper route earnings, we together purchased it when we lived in that small town and would ride it up and down our semi-rural street.

Here is a photo of my brother and I with our dad when we were learning to play golf together. This was one of the “father-son” activities my dad suggested we take up once we had moved to the “big” city with public golf courses available. This was obviously taken after that first outing when we learned that each player was supposed to have his own bag and set of clubs (the first time we golfed, all three of us played out of the bag pictured next to my dad).

And this picture is special of my sister with her first car, significant probably much more to me than my sister as she let me learn how to drive a stick shift in her new car.

My dad was a huge fisherman probably going fishing almost every week of his adulthood. Here he is with the largest fish he ever caught, a dolphin landed on a deep-sea fishing excursion we took one summer on vacation in Destin, FL.

The next photo album jumped forward to 1980 the year my parents left Memphis and moved to a small community church in northwestern Louisiana.

We made many trips there prior to my dad retiring in 1989.

It was a relaxing, probably idyllic pre-retirement setting for my parents.

But when I opened the 1996 album and perused the photos, I was shocked at how much my mom had aged in the few short years since the end of the last album.

Some of the photos were even taken of her in the hospital as she had been in and out seeking treatment for numerous medical issues that arose as she neared the end of her life. Some of the photos brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t bear to scan them, as I didn’t want to remember her that way.

As I closed the cover of that last album, tears running down my cheeks, I suddenly felt a tremendous sense of loss over my parents. On a daily basis, I probably don’t think about my parents what with me still working full time, having granddaddy duties, and maintaining a loving relationship with my wife of over 35 years. But it seemed that last album brought the death of my parents crashing down around me, a loss felt anew with fresh tears as I typed these words.

So I decided this was the memory I would try to etch in my mind of my parents, from December 1989, the year my dad retired and long before the medical conditions took their ravish toll on both my parents.

I miss you Mom and Dad. I love you and will always remember you dearly.

What’s It Really Going to be Like to Retire?

Now that my retirement date is less than two months away, I have really been thinking a lot about what it is going to be like to be retired. I know it is going to be a big change as I have worked full-time for over 35 years, ever since I was in graduate school. But I am looking forward to this next phase in my life.

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This biggest change will simply be to have all the extra time available to do things I want or need to do. I’ve talked to friends who have retired and many of them say they are so busy in retirement, they don’t know how they ever found time to work. I am looking forward to finding out that for myself.

Over my entire career, I have never been on vacation from work for more than two consecutive weeks. And the longest I have even been off from work was three weeks last year when I was off recuperating from surgery. This gave me my first taste for what retirement would be like although I certainly was not able to do whatever I wanted to do.

With all the extra time, I know I will want to spend a lot of it on projects that I have just not had time to do (I enjoy doing things with my hands). Rebuilding this garbage blind is high on my list, as it looks very worn out in comparison to how it looked when first built.

And while I have the table saw set up, I will likely rebuild this old and worn fence that is sorely in need of refreshing.

Our wooden deck overlooking our pool is over 10 years old now and a number of boards need to be replaced. Over the years, I have pressure washed and re-stained it but this time it will need major restoration.

Pulling weeds and mulching flowerbeds is a job that I have had to relegate to weekend days while working full time. Because of this as well as business travel I typically have in the spring, I always seem to behind the 8-ball and never seem to get it all done before the summer is over. My wife works in the yard too but her time has also been limited in the past by her work hours. Next spring, I am looking forward to having five days a week to work in the yard getting the beds ready for spring. And a reward will be that I will have my two weekend days to relax since I will have so much more time to work during the week.

Travel is another activity that my wife and I will have more time to do. Even though towards the end of my career, I have had over 6 weeks of vacation time available to me, I took much of my vacation days teaching the professional courses I have taught for many years. Combined with travel to visit our kids/grandkids, this left little time for as my wife says, “a real vacation.” One where I am not working and we are not visiting relatives.

And now that my wife has a really comfortable car for travel, we will be able to take many more road trips. Some of these could be weeks-long grand tours to places neither of us have been.

Speaking of road trips, I too am looking forward to some of “my road trips,” ones that are simply for the pleasure of enjoying the road (these are not ones my wife will want to take and so I will probably go solo). The last time I took one of these was in 2010 when I took my 2002 Mazda Miata on a 5-day, 2,000-mile trek to drive the Sky Line Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). I’m thinking of doing another drive of the BRP in my new and more comfortable WRX.

Another thing that will be different is likely the end of the day check in my wife and I have had for so many years.

We have what we call “our club” where we typically enjoy a beer and talk about our day. Since we are apart most of the day, there is usually much to talk about. But since we will both be home most days, we may not have as many things to talk about as we may experience our day together. A friend of mine who retired said while he was working, he and his wife usually had a lively conversation over dinner but now they had a hard time thinking of things to say that the other doesn’t already know and so sometimes have a meal mostly in silence. Hopefully that will not be our problem as we still have separate things to share, books we are reading, news we have heard, or interactions we have individually had with our kids. And there is always talk of making plans for what we will do now that we will have more time not working (my wife also retired this year).

So it is with eager anticipation I await my final workday. And after that, not even the sky will be the limit of what we can do!