Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene Pushes Rhino Around

Storm damage, Takoma Park style: Rhino rests on side.
Hurricane Irene, aside from knocking over quite a few trees in the Takoma Park area, also tipped over my favorite rhino sculpture.  My hope is that his wounds are mild and his pink rhino self will be up and about in short order.

In good news, other yard art appeared unaffected.
Yard art still secured amid mulch.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Feline Fashion Dos and Don'ts

For the last several days, my sister Susan Daffron, The Book Consultant, and I have been attending BlogPaws, a conference dedicated to pet bloggers. Susie was a speaker at the conference as well.

We met many smart and kind people and heard them talk on topics ranging from making effective movies to social media to book publishing. I learned a great deal, none of which I'm going to share today, as a much more important issue is on my mind. 

I'm talking, of course, about Cat Fashion. 

As the Sheraton had relaxed its pet policy, we got to meet all kinds of furry critters out with their humans. Many happy dogs, a couple of ferrets, and at least one guinea pig attended the event, as did several cats. One of them impressed me with his easy charm amidst all the hubbub. 

Meet Marcel, the Fashion DO:

Stripes add a bit of fun.
Marcel is, bar none, the most fashionable cat I've met.  Although the photo makes him look ceramic, he is a real live kitty, and he pulled off a beret without so much as an irritable flick of the ear. Paired with the traditional striped top, he was a joy to behold.  As a representative of a hairless breed (great for people with allergies) he advocated well for his feline brethren. 

Inspired by Marcel's fabulousness, when we got home, we discovered that PetSmart had given us samples from their Martha Stewart collection. Long suffering Leo (who you may remember from the Cats in Antlers post) was nominated as model.

Leo, Feline Fashion DON'T:

Leo: "I'm too sexy for my shirt."
A few notes for the older feline fashionista:
-- You're no longer a kitten; the size you wore in high school will no longer cover your gut.  If you try to wear that size, you will look like a sausage exploding from its casing.
-- Sequins are a difficult look for most men over the age of one to carry off.
-- If you are not, perhaps, blessed with perfect proportions, do not emphasize your imbalances by visually chopping them up.
-- Minnie Pearl is gone; remember to remove your tags
-- Much as we love the Jolly Roger, the pirate look has come and gone.  Stay abreast of change. 

Martha has a paw in everything

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kalmar Nyckel

Kalmar Nyckel, Lewes, DE
In Lewes, DE, a lunch with pirate friends near the ferry included a great view of this lovely ship. The Kalmar Nyckel is a recreation of a ship that sailed from Sweden to the "New World" in 1638, depositing the European settlers to establish the Colony of New Sweden. 

I keep thinking about the day a group of people were sitting around, maybe having a beer in the sun, toes wiggling in the sand, and decided, yes, let's rebuild an enormous ship, found a maritime-based educational organization nonprofit, and sail said ship around with volunteers. That's a bold decision.  Well done!

Also, I want a parrot and an eye patch. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Culinary Arts #1: How Not to Bake a Cake

1. Turn on oven to preheat.
2. Open cake mix portion of Boston Creme Pie Mom sent you for your birthday and toss it in bowl.
3. Add butter that you actually remembered to take out of the fridge yesterday to soften. 
4. Carefully measure amount of milk into 2/3 cup scoop. Review instructions, realize it should be 3/4 cup. Guestimate and throw in more milk.
5. Crack eggs and add to mix. Extract shell pieces from bowl. 
6. Get mixer, attach beaters, and place them in bowl. Watch one beater immediately fall off into bowl. Swear. Extract beater, rinse it off, and thoroughly affix it to mixer. 
7. Test mixer for beater security while by turning it on over the sink. Forget that other beater still has cake mix on it, so cake mix goes all over shirt and window over sink. Shriek. Turn off mixer. Swear. Giggle. Mix ingredients. 
8. Grease 8 inch pan with butter. Realize you don't have flour to cover butter. Decide this doesn't matter.
9.  Add batter. Throw cake in oven and set timer.
10. Custard filling: Over a new bowl, crack an egg and toss yolk back and forth between shell halves letting white fall into bowl. Feel like real cook separating eggs until you realize recipe calls for yolks, not whites. Throw whites from bowl into sink and put yolk into bowl. Successfully manage to put right part of 2nd egg into the bowl. Add milk.
11. Add whisk attachment to mixer being sure to affix beater securely. Mix contents.
12. In small saucepan, add custard filling mix and egg/milk mix. Stir over medium heat. Mop up liquid that sloshes out. Stir more slowly. 
13. When custard starts to gel, stir for one minute, remove from heat and let cool. Do happy dance that it tastes and looks right.
14. Wander around and wait for cake to cook.
15. Smell burning cake.
16. Check timer (ten minutes early!). Peek in oven, watch smoke pour out and and see that cake is now overflowing out of 8 inch pan. Refer to directions and note that it calls for a 9-inch pan.
17. Close oven door. Swear.
18. Open oven door, fan smoke away and delicately scrape overflowing edges of cake so they fall on the oven floor. Note increase in smoke. Get spatula and scrape cake scraps off oven floor onto kitchen floor. Sweep kitchen floor.
18. Pray smoke alarm does not go off.  Rejoice that windows are already open.  Open them wider.
19. Catch one piece of oozing cake before it falls off pan and taste. Tastes like cake! Frivolously choose to believe cake is still salvageable. Close oven door and let it keep cooking.
20. Be pleased that smoke seems to have dissipated.
21. When timer goes off, check cake. Note that it is still gelatinous in the center. Reset timer for another 5 minutes.
22. Check cake after 5 minutes and see it is still not done. Consider that oven was probably not preheated when cake was put in.
23. After another ten minutes, cake bounces back from light finger touch. It's done! Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes as instructed.
Scary cake fail.
24. Attempt to remove cake from pan. Realize flour probably was important, as much of cake is still stuck in pan. 
24. Scrape out cake crumbs. Consider making them a layer. Decide that, no, anemic, squishy little cake still needs to be sliced in two for two layers. Slice cake so bottom crumbles but top stays somewhat intact. Add crumbled layer to crumbs scraped from pan.
25. Add custard layer on top of crumble layer.
26. Try to add cake top without breaking it. Fail. Try to arrange crumbles artfully. Fail. 
27. Open chocolate icing package and note the contents is totally insufficient to cover a pristine cake top, much less serious cake sins with which you are currently faced. Hope anyway.
Yummy tart
28. Use knife to spread icing. Tear up cake even more. 
29. Stare at cake and think, well? Maybe? Put it under Saran wrap and put it in the fridge and hope it looks better. 
30. Take it out of fridge and note it does not look better. Consider that it may still be undercooked. Think about salmonella poisoning.  Put it back in fridge. Refuse to throw it out because the filling tastes good. 
30. Go to store. 
31. Buy gorgeous summery fruit tart. 
32. Take pretty, store-bought food to bbq.  Eat well sans salmonella. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


If you need to get your hands dirty in DC, stop by this dirtbox in front of the USDA right off the National Mall. 
Inside you'll find luscious topsoil, shovels and buckets. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wish Tree, Hirshhorn Sculpture Gallery

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden was out of new tags in the supply bin.

Tree full of wishes
I second that.
Dreams of an ever
perky future
Other folks had already covered much necessary ground however.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recycled Art: Fan Necklace

Fan Necklace
I made this choker necklace a month or two ago, when I became obsessed with jewelry design.

Aside from the beads (recycled from other necklaces and picked up cheap at Goodwill), the long black parts are created from parts of an old fan.

My grandmother collected fans for many, many years.  She wasn't terribly gentle with them, sticking them up on the wall with thumbtacks and between that, and the simple passage of time, many of them have crumbled apart.  The fans were divided among her kids and grandkids after her death.  I do have a couple that are lovely.  But most are pretty ramshackle.

Remains of a fan

Many of the fans have spines with interesting patterns though (plastic in the case of the pictured white fan; wood in the black fan I used for the necklace). That's what got me thinking. 

Old, thin wood splits frequently when drilled, so about half of the short spines fell apart before I ever got them in any useful shape.  Reinforcing them with a coat of black nail polish definitely helped, and so the necklace is relatively stable now.

The center pendant of the choker is part of the outside cover, with the original hand-painted gold design left intact. 

Somehow, I think my grandmother would be pleased with the re-use of her fan. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Children's Book Illustrators," University of New England

A few favorites from the "Children's Book Illustrators" exhibit at the University of New England.
From Aesop's Fables,
illustration by Jerry Pinkney

"Dinosaur Stomp" by Scott Nash

Dr. Seuss!

Sadly, the photo of the Eric Carle illustration came out entirely as glare. I have a fondness for his work. The first book I ever took out of the library was The Hungry Caterpillar.

I strongly recommend the exhibit.  It's a great place to introduce your children to art in a gallery setting in a way that is fun, informative and accessible.  Kids books are all about wonder.  It's hard not to like that, and some pretty magical art. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moose Mania in Maine

Moose sculpture in front of the
University of New England, Portland campus

Friday, August 12, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole for Cave Week

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" poster

I started last week seeing a movie with a friend about caves, and ended the week scrambling around inside caves with a totally different crowd of people.  Sometimes, life just works that way, creating its own themes. Welcome to Cave Week.  Watch your step!

Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a documentary about the Chauvet caves in southern France that have drawings made 30,000 years ago.  Because a cave-in sealed the entrance to the caves, the drawings look as if they were made last week, but they are, in fact, the oldest known drawings by humans. 30,000 years ago, paleolithic ancestors painted the walls with horses, lions, rhinos, bison and bears, and pressed handprints against the wall. 

The cave is closed to the public to protect the drawings, so Herzog's film is one of the only ways to see the ancient drawings. 

In keeping with Werner Herzog's weirdness factor, an intriguing part of the movie, beyond the wonder of cave paintings, was the odd characters drawn to Chauvet.  One researcher's former profession? Circus performer.  Another specialist dressed up in fur and played the "Star Spangled Banner" on a replica of a paleolithic flute. A perfumer sniffed near the caves and pondered what smells might have been present.  The caves inspire people, but the way that inspiration manifests is decidedly individual. 

For me, the movie felt thin in terms of detailed information. I would have liked to hear what life might have been like for people living in the general area during the time the drawings were created.  The drawings on the cave where made over a long span of time, thousands of years, so presumably there were advances in culture that may have been reflected in the layers of art in the cave. The cave was never inhabited by man however, only visited. Only the drawings lived inside full-time, a detail with seems crucial somehow, and suggests that perhaps there was a spiritual component to the area. There was mention of the deliberate placement of an animal skull, which could suggest religious significance, but of course, there is no way to know. Largely, I'm wondering about information that can't be reasonably verified. 

The images do stick with me, the horses' necks, the suggestion of movement, the way time slows inside that dark space, and the way scientists are trying to stop it, which seems both admirable and sad and controlling all at once.  Life and art fade away no matter how much we try to keep them in place forever, no matter how much we protect and conserve. And yet there is repetition...the Chauvet horses bring to mind Picasso's horses, sketches with liveliness and movement, full of the humanness of creation. 
Clouds over Seneca Rocks, WV

Five days later, I was suited up in an old fleece, old nylon warm-up pants from Goodwill over hiking pants, my beloved Vibram Five Fingers shoes and a miner's helmet with a groovy light and slipping into the entrance to Stillhouse Cave near Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.  My old boss and friend Phil has been caving with crowd of folks for years, and invited me along for their latest trip.  I couldn't be more grateful for such a fun introduction to friendly people and the subterranean world. 

Wiggling through the entrance led to a large room where we gathered to let our eyes adjust to the dark and settle into the cool. Newbies like me were directed toward the squeeze area to get a feel for sliding through tight areas and stretching for footing, climbing and clamoring through the dark. Mist hung in the air, giving the dimly lighted area the soft focus of half-remembered dreams. (Werner would relate to that sentence, I feel sure).

Muddy cavers!
For several hours, I scrambled in all kinds of directions, up and down, in tiny spaces and larger chambers and through one heckuva a lot of mud.  I almost slid into a hole, and can thank a fellow caver and my shin for stopping my descent. The bruise is now six inches long and green.  Twice, I fell hard on my rear and for once, was glad for the padding. Down mudslide creeks, I could skate on my slick shoes and on sandier shores tried to scrape some of the mud back to little success. The two Beagle-sized dogs of a fellow caver circled all around us on the trip, one eventually disappearing above ground again, but both surprisingly agile in leaping from rock to rock. Standing up at my full height became a luxury I'd never fully appreciated until spending some time wiggling along on my belly pulling myself forward with my elbows and thighs, a frog kick in the dirt. 

The exit of the cave, once we finally found it, was climbing up a chimney, scooting around the back of a rock and creeping up back and legs against the sides.  Just as I was leaving that cave, I realized how tired my arms were from hauling myself, the shaking of fatigue not noticeable until that moment.

Refreshed with a Luna bar and some chocolate and lolling in the sun, our merry band rambled down to the Sinks of Gandy cave.  A much more relaxed event, the Sinks is mostly a river the runs through a hill.  We sloshed through water variously ankle to thigh deep, mostly around my knees.  In the dark, I saw a white crayfish, some kind of cave dwelling critter that lives its day in the dark (excepting when cavers clomp through with our headlamps).  After the mud-fest of Stillhouse, we had opportunity to rinse off the heaviest layers of grime.

The exit out was a good stroll up and down through boulders. We emerged to gentle, drizzly rain.  I got to sit on the side of a hill above the creek a bit with cows in the pasture in the distance, and watch as folks emerged from their swims and rinse mud and splash in the water and laugh.

I had a great day remembering many of the things I liked when I was a kid. Exploring, mud, water, playfulness, physical stretches just at the limit of my tippytoes, silly jokes, well-time chocolate, a helpful hand up a hill -- these are all still things that make me smile.

Of course, as an adult, I ended up aching for days.  I'm happy that I can once again lift my arms over my head again without whimpering.

In the Sinks of Gandy cave, I left a handprint in the mud on some higher ground.  I doubt Werner Herzog's descendants will be filming that handprint 30,000 years from now. 

But you never know. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Alien Egg Hatching in Takoma Park

Another great reason to live in Takoma Park: the alien egg hatching.

Right near the Takoma Park Silver Spring Coop, you can find Alison Baker's phenakistascope (early animation device) "The Amazing Alien Egg."  The sculpture is one of seven, all made from old bicycles, now on display in Takoma Park.

Phenakistascope "The Amazing Alien Egg" created by Alison Baker

When you put your eye up against the Big Eye on the bike's back wheel and turn the pedal, you get to see this:

Yes, there is some gratuitous use of film effects in there.  Who knew what fun the freebie software contained? 

For more information on reCYCLE The Art of Bike Project and locations of other sculptures, check out this link: http://www.mainstreettakoma.org/files/ReCycleMap.pdf.