A different kind of landscape art

February 2, 2014

The ambient temperature where Simon Beck creates his art is probably a good deal lower than where Andre Amador creates his, but in other ways their works have a great deal in common. Both use the natural landscape as their canvas, Beck in newly fallen snow and Amador in the sand at low tide. And both know that their artwork will not last very long.

Both create intricate designs, amazing both for their beauty and the careful planning and work required to create them. I’m sure they’d be even more impressive seen in person, but even from photographs they are remarkable.

Not your average Easter bunny

March 24, 2013

Most Easter bunnies are made of chocolate. Some are plush. But this weekend’s wintry weather has produced some snowy Easter bunnies.

And while we’re on the subject of unusual Easter bunnies, check out these unfortunate Easter bunny costumes.

Holiday Springs and Sprockets

January 5, 2013

When I first saw the work of Steve Gerberich a couple of years ago, I was delighted by his inventiveness. So when I saw that the Muscatine Art Center would have his Holiday Springs and Sprockets on display, I was eager to go see it. Then I got sick, and put off going to the art center.

mechanized RudolphThis is the last weekend of the exhibit, so I made a point of going today. (It is traditional to keep Christmas decorations up until Epiphany, which is tomorrow. I wonder if that played any part in determining the exhibit’s schedule.)

I really like the Flying Reindeer. Mounting reindeer on exercise bikes, and then using bicycle handlebars for antlers – that is inspired. And the collectioRudolph's nosesn of different light bulbs for Rudolph to use, depending on the weather – that is a special touch, especially the collection of clear lights for Hanukkah!

I have to admit that the rest of the exhibit left me somewhat disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high, because I had enjoyed the previous exhibit so much. Perhaps it was because this time the idea of how Gerberich puts together apparent “junk” to make mechanized art was no longer fresh and new.

Maybe it was the wooden elves – I just don’t like their looks. I wondered if maybe it was partly because more of the objects appeared to have been made specially for a Christmas exhibit, if not necessarily this one, rather than being odds and ends that had been pressed into service in an entirely new way.

I wondered if Gerberich had been under some pressure to get a holiday exhibit put together and had less time to create it than some of his other works. I discovered later, reading about the exhibit in the Quad City Times (check out the story to see more pictures), that he created this exhibit in 1991 for Bloomingdale’s in New York. So maybe his other creations are better because he has had a couple of decades to improve his work.

This exhibit still delights many people, especially the children who visit. The art center was far from crowded on this January afternoon, but there was rarely a moment that one display or another was not in motion. And it wasn’t just children pushing the buttons that set the gears – and rollers, pulleys, chains, and more – in motion.

Arrrrgh – I didn’t talk like a pirate today

September 19, 2012

If I still worked in a large IT department, sitting at the front desk where I had occasion to chat with my colleagues over the course of the day, it would not have been mid-afternoon before I found out that today was Talk Like a Pirate Day. Not that most of the developers and system administrators actually went around saying “Avast” – but one of them would have mentioned something.

As it was, I was sitting down at a meeting when the VP of Student Services commented on the fact. He didn’t go on to actually talk like a pirate, and I wondered if he had acquired his knowledge from a student, his online resources, or a general interest in nerdy topics (an interest he may or may not have – he is my supervisor but I don’t really know him yet). He did mention that celebration of the day really took off ten years ago when Dave Barry wrote about it – something I hadn’t known before.

I found out from nationalGeographic.com that it could more accurately be called Talk Like Robert Newton Day. Or perhaps Talk Like Disney Day. Not that I ever thought the presumed pirate-style talk was all that historically accurate, but I was surprised to learn that it has such a recent origin. And from the purveyors of Mickey Mouse!

Despite the comments at the end of the article, I don’t think National Geographic is trying to spoil anyone’s fun, or take a silly topic too seriously. Their role is education, and people like me appreciate learning more about the origins of today’s good-humored “pirate talk.” It wouldn’t stop me from talking like a (Disney) pirate, if I were so inclined.

It was actually a crossword puzzle that made me realize, one day recently, how inaccurate the pseudo-pirate talk is. Consider the opening lines at the Talk Like a Pirate Day website: “Avast, me hearties! Welcome…” Wouldn’t you guess, from that opening, that avast was some sort of greeting? So I was very surprised to discover that a five-letter word meaning “Stop!” is AVAST.

Next thing you know, I suppose I’ll be reading that pirates didn’t really wear earrings and have parrots perched on their shoulders…

Bigger than Giant George

September 14, 2012

Less than a week after I read about Giant George, the dog recognized in 2010 as both the tallest living dog and the tallest dog ever, Guinness World Records has announced a new tallest dog. Another Great Dane, Zeus, is an inch taller – though nearly a hundred pounds lighter.

Fortunately George is taking this well, according to his Facebook page. He congratulates Zeus on his accomplishment, and focuses on how his own Guinness achievement gave him the opportunity to spread the message that it’s OK to be different.

I can’t help wondering if there’s a trend here. Are big breeds of dogs getting bigger, just as people are taller today than in past centuries? Or does the internet just make it easier to hear about the most unusual cases?

Books: Giant George

September 8, 2012

I got this book from the library because I knew my younger son would enjoy reading it. He likes reading about animals, especially dogs. And I thought he would find it interesting to read a sort of real-life version of the story of Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

George is not red, of course, and he certainly is not as big as a house. But he was the runt of his litter, and went on to grow so big that Guinness World Records officially designated him both “tallest living dog” and the “tallest dog ever.”

I don’t usually read books about animals myself, but this morning I was looking for some easy reading. I had a sinus headache, and I had to take my car into the shop to get some work done. Giant George looked like good waiting room reading material.

It did turn out to be both easy and enjoyable reading. A lot of it is less about George than about Dave and Christie Nasser, his human “Mom” and “Dad.” From my point of view, that makes it even better – I don’t dislike reading about pets but it’s usually the people who are most interesting. And I wondered what it would be like to have such a big dog.

People often comment on Kyra being fairly large; at about 85 pounds, she is a pretty-good-sized dog. But George weighs almost three times that much. If we find it difficult to have her share our bed, what would it be like to have an enormous Great Dane?

George, it turns out, sleeps on his own queen-size mattress (not that he doesn’t like being on the bed with Dave and Christie). He can reach food left on kitchen counters (or pretty much anywhere else normal-sized humans can put it) without even stretching, certainly without having to get up on his hind legs.

I am very glad now that Kyra is as “small” as she is – especially when it comes to cleaning up her poop. I wouldn’t mind having a dog as laid-back and gentle as George apparently is – and he seems to be typical of his breed. But I wouldn’t like the much shorter life span that is also typical of such large dogs. George is six years old now, and seven is apparently as old as he is likely to get.

I’m glad George has brought joy into the lives of so many people. And I’m glad the book was written while George is still alive and happy – I was so not looking forward to reading about his death at the end.

Strange phone call

August 24, 2012

I had been driving for several hours, and I was finally near enough to my destination that I knew my way without looking at the mapquest.com directions in my hand. My cell phone rang, and I answered it, wondering why my husband felt a need to call me now. He was in the car behind me, with our older son, and even as directionally-impaired as he is, he should have recognized the area leading to his aunt’s house.

How are you doing today?

Well, that certainly wasn’t my husband’s voice, and I couldn’t immediately place it. Someone from work, maybe? (Where I used to work until last Friday, that is – maybe someone wondering how I was handling unemployment, someone who hadn’t yet heard that I was offered a new job on Monday, and that I start work on Sept. 4.)

“Fine,” I answered, somewhat noncommittally since I didn’t know who I was speaking to. I waited for the speaker to identify himself and his reason for calling.

What do you think happens to people when they die?

Read the rest of this entry »

Mike, the headless chicken

May 19, 2012

Since school gets out on Wednesday, I started looking at interesting “holidays” Al can celebrate to give him something interesting to do during summer vacation. Thursday will be Brother’s Day, and I’m sure Al can think of something nice to do for his big brother.

Friday will be Cookie Monster’s birthday. Actually, it is the birthday of Frank Oz, who has performed Cookie Monster since 1969. Cookie Monster’s own birthday is apparently Nov. 2, but someone with such an appetite probably needs two birthdays a year. (And a friend at church told me the other day how much better it works to serve cookies than cake at a birthday party, at least for people old enough not to want a display of candles.) I think we will need to bake some monster cookies.

As for this weekend, Al is away at a Boy Scout campout, so I didn’t really need to find anything to celebrate. But I couldn’t help being curious about the strange celebration in Fruita, Colorado this weekend, honoring Mike, the Headless Chicken.

From what I have read at a few different websites, it appears to be a true story, however improbable. I’m not sure how much his owners really wanted to honor Mike’s “will to live” and how much they wanted the money they could make off him. But it certainly is an interesting and unusual story, well worth a weekend festival.

So the next time you feel like you are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, take heart. Life goes on. You just might find it hard to do much crowing.

Recycling something very big

March 30, 2012

What do you do with an unwanted nuclear reactor plant?

Construction of SNR-300 began in 1972 near Kalkar, Germany and was completed in 1985. In the meantime, however, public opinion turned against nuclear power, and the plant never went into operation.

A Dutch businessman found a unique use for it, transforming it into an amusement park. Wunderland Kalkar is the only park where visitors can climb a nuclear reactor cooling tower, or take a swing ride inside it.

I don’t care much for amusement parks, but that would be an interesting one to visit.

Playing with food

March 20, 2012

Along with keeping up with major news stories, I like checking out the “weird news” category. Today one of the stories that caught my eye was about two Chinese brothers who make musical instruments out of vegetables.

Intrigued, I did a search to see what else – if anything – I could find on the topic. Somewhat to my surprise, what those brothers do is not as unique as one might think. There is a Vegetable Orchestra in Vienna. According to their website they are the only vegetable orchestra, but the World Carrot Museum website provides links to others.

They also provide instructions on how to make a carrot kazoo. And if you don’t want to limit yourself to carrots, here is a site that tells how to make some other vegetable instruments.