Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Beginnings: Creating a New Kitchen

The original kitchen
When I purchased my condo, I knew that the kitchen was at best dicey, but after I took possession and inspected every nook, corner and cranny the one thing that stood out that needed fixing or replacing was the kitchen. While it was different than other kitchens ... the originals from about 1983, this one had been upgraded ... sorta. The cabinets didn't go up to the ceiling, the Formica counters were now white tile, the stove was deeply scarred with divots in the glass top and rings around the burners that could not be scrubbed out. The old fan was dim, unbelievably greasy and the dishwasher didn't work. So while looking at it, and obviously not very closely, I didn't realize the job I had in store for me. Now I do.
   
The kitchen down to its ribs
     Since I had done a kitchen remodel before, I more or less knew the drill. If it can go wrong it will. However, since the space is small and cozy for two I realized that I couldn't do much more than replace the cabinets with those that went to the ceiling, put in better lighting, a new ceiling fan (the only one in the entire condo) and since I had a dining room, that left me free to decide what to do with the wall behind the kitchen. That would be a challenge as well.
     I hit upon the idea of a two toned kitchen. White cabinets above the counters and darker wood below. I would select a counter top that honored both colors and settled on white appliances. So we went over the ideas, dimensions and wants with a designer at Home Depot. I had used them before and pretty much knew the steps involved. After several ideas, layouts, etc., my contractor and I settled on a plan. I think he was very happy I didn't use red cabinets below the counters though we saw a brochure that did exactly that. The idea of two toned cabinetry seemed different to me and then Sunday I read in the Desert Sun that this has become all the rage both in the U.S. and Europe. Who knew? I did it because there is no window and without bright lighting, the kitchen is dark. Watching a friend fix dumplings in my relatively dim kitchen now, I realized you need to see where your fingers are when chopping! He agreed as well.
   
Things look a lot better with drywall!
     A lot had to be done before we could install the new cabinets. We had an electrician put the wiring in for the new fans, and add outlets in the kitchen. There had to be new drywall to replace the open areas that for some reason the cabinets covered. Drywall had to be mudded and I painted the areas that would show.
     Painting became an interesting process. While I was tempted to continue the red from the dining room, I realized that I needed a neutral color for all my red appliances. The toaster, coffee maker, canisters and even the waffle maker. While I looked, I couldn't find just the right tiles I wanted above the backsplash. The way I was burning through money, I figured a charcoal grey, the same color as the master bedroom was the way to go.
Painted drywall on one those areas cabinet couldn't conceal
The base cabinets went in fairly smoothly
     The counter man had come and gone ... measuring with a laser the exact dimensions of the quartz top. A close friend and I discussed these counters and I wanted something to match a strongly veined granite in both baths. He noted though that you wouldn't see the crumbs. "I'm a bachelor," I said. "We are expected to be messy." He demurred and suggested something with far less pattern, more white with subtle veining that would show those crumbs. I guess that means I clean the counter a lot more! However, those counters won't be here until the New Year so I move into an almost complete kitchen. I got red vinyl tablecloths to cover the plywood underlay so we could cook.
   However, the fun didn't stop there. When my contractor started opening the wall cabinets, he noted that the boxes said 48" high. Even though he measured one the number 48 stuck in his mind. Lining up all the cabinets that were supposed to be 42" all he could see was 48." We went over to Home Depot, had them come and get them and then got them reordered again.
Oh my! Those cabinets are huge!
   
 
     When I went over the next day to see my designer, he came back to me and said, they were 42", the right dimension. So after calling the contractor he said that would be right so then the dance began to get them back. Finally, after two days of waiting to get them the 2 or so miles Home Depot is from me, I drove my little Mazda CX-5 over and in four trips got them in and out myself so we could continue. Remember now, I must be out of my rental and into my condo by December 31st. Talk about a driven man!!!
     The interesting wrinkle though has been my kitchen item purchases from Amazon of all places. Really! I couldn't find the hardware similar to that on my dining room cabinet, a 5" brushed metal handle. I found them on Amazon for about 3 times less than in a store. Then I didn't see a single sink  faucet I like ... again Amazon. Then the fan over the stove at hardware stores was very expensive. Yup, Amazon again. It seems that you can get just about anything in the world on Amazon and at a much, MUCH better price.
     We didn't lose much time as the back wall cabinets were there and could be installed. The surprise though was that the upper white cabinets were 25" deep, not 12" like the two thinner cabinets with glass in the doors. They offered so much storage that I could even fit wine racks, a small fridge, store bodies! I may have lost the hall cabinets due to the addition of a stacking washer/dryer space but in the pass through to the dining room, there was plenty of storage.
     One other addition to the new wall unit design was the addition of a bar. It was 60" wide, wide enough for two, even three people to eat at without having to mess up the dining room. There is a large space to mount a TV if I want and a cutout to the new four plug outlet that included two USB charging ports!
A place to show my collection of old cameras
    Since I figured that this would be my last resting place living on my own I wanted to make it easy to care for and use! One of the hallmarks was that I finally had a place to display my old cameras. Maybe not antiques yet but some, the Polaroids especially, almost my age now. There is one more treasure I have yet to retrieve, a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic, a prize I snared the day of the Northridge Earthquake for $100 in its original case and holders, flash and meter that you would ever need.
     The hopefully last snag was that the designer, and we watched him do it and even had the printout in our hot little hands, put the sink directly under the A/C duct that I wanted to hide under a cover. When we went to install that cabinet, we made the discovery it wouldn't fit. However, once everyone calmed down we realized
Recreating the duct box and installing the cabinet next to it
that if we changed the wall duct box over to the left, everything would fit. The 42" wall cabinet to the right, and the short 12" high cabinet under the duct box.
     The kitchen is small ... as you can see with the contractor installing the heart stopping cabinet. It will have to be asymmetrical because the sink is not centered either because of the dishwasher. In its own way, the duct box will be centered over the sink with a small cabinet under it.
     Obviously it is not done yet. I put in all the cabinet shelves last night ... the counter isn't there but all the appliances work, we will have water and a dishwasher so we can cook Christmas dinner with turkey and all the fixins'. Cooking a turkey will be a first for me. The rest is easy. If I'm lucky my friend might add fresh, homemade Chinese dumplings! My sister wants me to send her some overnight they're that good!
     The floor is being cleaned today (December 20, 2016) and I pick up a friend tomorrow who will help me over the next week move in and clean up where I am now. I have already moved my studio into the new condo and put a ton of things in the mercifully large storage room that is mine in front of my parking space. One way or another, it will be done. The new place won't be completely ready but isn't that the way it always goes?
     This is a perfect example of design ... how we design the spaces around us or let someone else do it for us. This is going to be my place, my last place when you're 71, so I decided to design it to suit me at this stage of my life. I have been toying with getting a Roomba. I have a black Lab that sheds all the time. I hate to vacuum and well ... it may chase her around the condo at times but at least it would keep the dog hair at a minimum.
     More to come. Will show the results with the counters in place, clean floors and all cabinets installed. For now and until the end of the year "moving" is the key word! Happy Holidays!!!


Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Designing The Food We Eat

THE LAST SUPPER by Leonardo DaVinci
You have to consider that the food we eat, each and every day,  often three times a day is something that we design. Each time you prepare a meal, you are in effect designing something. From the mundane bowl of soup to a Thanksgiving feast, food has fascinated man ... and some of the most famous paintings in the world reflect that! Anyone who ever seen THE LAST SUPPER knows that food was as important to the disciples as to anyone. The feelings of breaking bread together are timeless and eternal.
     As I was making bread today, from scratch I might add, it hit me that cooking or baking, is as much an art as painting, writing or singing a song. Food is our sustenance and we ignore it to our peril. Every era, every time in history
They really knew how to eat in the Renaissance!
celebrates food yet many of us seem to ignore that fact. Even fast food, believe it or not, is designed in some kitchen somewhere and then copied like a Xerox copy all over the world. (I might add that in most cases there might be very little difference between the taste of some fast food and that copy of paper). Anyone who has traveled much knows that food is the subject of much of the fine art they see in the worlds greats museums, temples and monuments. Amazingly paintings on the walls of Ancient Egyptian temples still show people offering food to the gods. (Why is it that that paint is still there 4,500 years later and we have to paint our houses at least every 5 years?)
     Even in the midst of the turmoil of moving I had "ripe" bananas ready to be baked and a can of pumpkin puree begging to be cooked. Cook or move that can ... you decide.
Ingredients are out - let the mixing begin!
     As I write this the two - banana and pumpkin breads are baking. As I was mixing the ingredients it made me realize the steps are really no different than getting a painting ready to paint something and then well, paint it.
   
Banana batter ready to bake
I dug out the trusty cookbook and started pulling the out the ingredients off the shelves and refrigerator. Here, sugar and flour are kept in the freezer because the ants will be all over them before you can even say bug! So the flour, eggs, sugar, spices, oil, mashed bananas and the final addition - chopped walnuts are put together into a mix that hopefully will turn out to be bread. And trust me, anyone that has cooked or painted hopes for success. It doesn't always happen either!!! If you've been there you know what I mean.
   
The kitchen supervisor
      No kitchen would be complete without a supervisor and my kitchen isn't any different either. There in the middle of the floor, blocking an exit or entrance to the fridge is my supervisor. I guess I could move her but she would be back the minute my back was turned. She is however, a wonderful cleanup crew. You drop it, she'll eat it!
Pumpkin and banana bread, all ready to go!
   













     After mixing the batter for the banana bread, next came the pumpkin mix. I had never made this before and was amazed at how different the recipes were. They both were to be cooked in the same size pan, same time and even same temperature. Neither is dietetic but really how often do we splurge like this? My friend from Hong Kong loves my bread and specifically asked that I make some for him. Who knows, we might just be able to eat it in my own new kitchen!

The finished product: pumpkin and banana bread!
     The new counters won't be in but as the guy who came to take the final measurements Monday said, get a plastic tablecloth at the Dollar Store to cover the underlaying plywood. Yes, how perceptive is that! For a buck or two I can have the use of the kitchen as the appliances are in, the cabinets should be ... all that is missing will be the new counters. So, as I make my final hurrah in one kitchen, I am looking for to getting to use my new and very
     Here's to all the cooks, those artists of the culinary arts, wishing you much success with the cooking that mark the holidays.



Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

An Apology

     In the pressures of getting my condo completed and myself moved in by December 31st, we made mistakes. The biggest mistake was measuring. Yes, the cabinets that we thought were supposed to measure 42" were in box numbers that ended in 48 and that figure stuck in our minds. Even when one of them was taken out of the box and measured we read 48" on the tape. Since all the boxes appeared to be the same height, we assumed the cabinets were too big, that they were all 48". Never assume anything! Remember ... assume means make an ass out of you and me!
     Going over to Home Depot this afternoon, my designer told me that the cabinets measured 42". Asking how tall the ceilings were I replied 96" or 8 feet. Calling my contractor he repeated the ceiling height. I told him the cabinets measured 42" even though the box numbers said XXX48. We all agreed that this would be correct and so, the mystery was solved.
     Visually the number stuck in minds eye and even looking at the measuring tape we saw 48 rather than the true measurement.
     At least we can get the cabinets back and continue to get the condo ready to move into by the end of the month ... the end of the year. My designer was going to contact KraftMaid to stop the replacement order. What was still needed were just a few small things that would make the kitchen look nicer but not be of the magnitude a reorder would take.
     However, there is an apology due and I offer it here. I am very sorry for the confusion. Yet, I also stand by some of my reactions in how this was handled. I do credit my designer at Home Depot for helping us see our mistake patiently and kindly. He is helping us to return the cabinets, luckily not far away, and allow us to move forward.

Alan Krug

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Living in LA LA Land And Wondering How It Will All Turn Out!

     For those of you who don't know, I live in California; Palm Springs, CA in fact. Palm Springs is  a city with a multitude of distinctions ... land of the winter snowbirds, retirement city, Gay Capital of the U.S, home of Modernism Week, film festivals, prestigious art festivals, huge outdoor music concerts, a weekly street fair that closes down the main drag every Thursday night, HOT summers ... the list really can go on and on. That said, I also live in a state that voted 66% for Clinton and hates Donald Trump. As just about everyone in the world knows, California is a liberal, to many, a very liberal state. Bill O'Reilly, the ultra conservative, once observed that the Los Angeles Times should use a hammer & sickle in their masthead, it's that liberal.
     It is a state led by Democrats in both houses of the legislature, the governorship and just about every other office in the Golden State. It is also replete with those elected officials that think they know better than you or I. If they did I might add, we would be living in paradise ... however, we aren't, and they don't know much more, maybe, from the many I have met, less.
     What is interesting however, is the breakdown of the state. In the north from San Francisco to Oregon you have a strong loyal, liberal base. However, in the far more populous south, Los Angeles, it is liberal but moderately so, some might even say shakily so. It is these population centers that wag the dog. As you can clearly see, the majority of the landmass with far fewer people is either moderately or extremely conservative.
     What brought this to mind was an article in the Sunday Desert Sun that, with the media still wringing it hands, wondered how California would bear a Trump Presidency. They observed the actions of Texas where the attorney general of that state filed lawsuits against the Obama Administration daily as a matter of course. The editorial urged our newly appointed attorney general to do the same thing.
     I guess the question remains, when will liberals, and by that I mean the media, talking heads, pundits and those that "know" how to run a political campaign realize, and admit that much of the result of the Trump presidency was of their own making. One insightful article by a renowned journalist admitted the hubris of the liberals including himself. When by chance he ventured out of the beltway to Podunk Iowa, what he heard and saw convinced him in June that Trump had a chance. Why? Because the administration wasn't looking out for them. Democrats were convinced the working class was theirs. Only the working class felt it wasn't being served and protected by the Democrats with decades of their jobs going overseas, a slower than normal recovery had left them near starvation levels. Their hope for a better life had vanished. They took a chance on Trump. You have to realize, that no matter how cheap products are, if you don't have a job you will not be able to buy them. The only winners in NAFTA, the now failed Pacific Trade Agreement and any other trade agreements were the CEO's who would make even more money and the countries that got the jobs exported from here, certainly not the workers who lost their jobs. Watching PBS specials interviewing the workers who had lost good paying jobs many felt that Trump being vilified by both Democrats and Republicans was enough of an outsider who just might actually do what he promised. Certainly the deal he wrought with Carrier saving about 1400 jobs from going to Mexico proves, in their minds, he really does care about them.
     However, it wasn't just a few jaded voters that voted for Trump. Take a gander at the entire United States and see how they voted county by county. All that red is a sobering reminder that while we have more voters in our cities, there is a great disconnect between the citizens of this country. It is the issue that has and may well continue to divide this country.
     Many of my friends still can't get over the election results. There is a sense of foreboding in the Gay community, many of the residents in the valley are undocumented and many of the grand projects of California (Big Brother) seem to be in peril.
   
The election may be over but the feelings haven't!
     How will it all end up? No one knows. Hopefully, the status quo is broken and finally, as one journalist admitted, its time for everyone to stop talking to themselves and talk to the people of this land. What is needed and done in New York City, the beltway, and just about any large American city is, as we have seen, very different in the heartland. If you are a small merchant, farmer, oil field worker, fisherman, there is a good deal of brokering. The art of the deal is alive and well. Isn't that what Trump has said about himself all along? Once filled with strong blue-collar voters, decades of jobs fleeing overseas has seen our workforce decimated and both parties are held to blame.
    And all blame cannot be placed on the Democrats shoulders either. The GOP has been as intransigent and acting like they know better yet have refused to sit at the table and compromise. If there is any hallmark to the success of the United States beginning with the creation of the Constitution, it was that various political followers 1. talked to each other, 2. learned the spirit of compromise. Nothing is perfect and on this earth nothing most likely will ever be. To move forward you have to do some horse-trading, do a little give and take so that while no one ever gets everything they might want, the country moves forward, both sides give some and get some. As everyone knows, not much of compromise on anything has been done for something like about 16 years. The country has become polarized and it has been become a battle between competing ideologies.
     Watching "60 Minutes" last Sunday was sobering. First Paul Ryan, a voracious critic of Trump says that he is willing to work with him. They are united in undoing much of Obama's legacy.
     The next feature talked about the "Golden Triangle" in Alabama that has had a resurgence in new industries that have slowly begun to replace the ones that fled to China. However, even here the sobering fact remains ... what will we do with all the people when the requirements for any new factory is a fraction of what it was? Fact, a steel mill used to employ around 4,000 workers. The new one, with great pay for the 500 workers is the problem. Much of the old muscle work has been replaced by robots and men and women now sit behind computers monitoring every action in the mill. Industries my be moving back to the US but the job requirements will be far less than before.
     There is a reason robotics are replacing more and more jobs; they can work 24/7, need no breaks or lunch, vacations, health care, 401K plans. Sure they require maintenance but nothing like the numbers of workers once required.
     Education is the key but for what? No one can predict the future but the days of a high school diploma being enough isn't good enough anymore. In fact, even a four year college degree is looking pretty slim to many companies.
     While I can't predict an answer here, I can predict that if both parties don't sit down and talk to each other, work out a plan that protects their constituents, simplifies the daily business of both small companies and their employees there will be even more drastic election changes opening up even more extremes that will continue to polarize the country.
     If there ever was a need to design a plan of action, that time is now! Write your congressman, your senator, any and all of your elected officials. They are to represent you, not themselves. TELL them what you think. Make them hear your voice, not the voices of each other. I tell friends vote incumbents out ... each and every one. When they tell me their incumbent is good I reply, "No they are not. They are part of the problem!" Think about that and let your fingers do the walking over those keyboard keys.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 



Monday, December 5, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past

First spotted on Farrell & Baristo at 4 am in Palm Springs
     One of the things I must do everyday for my health is walk. Also, one of the things I must also do several times a day, is walk my dog. Should I feel lazy or not be active enough you can bet she will be there to remind me.
     There are the potty walks about the condo complex and there is the walk, a 30 - 45 minute walk I have dubbed the WPP (walk, poop and potty). How do I know its time? Well, first there is the stare. Then she gets closer smiling and bumping me. When that fails a paw touches my knee over and over again until I get up.
   On one of the routes we take there is a memorial to someone on the corner of Baristo and Farrell here in Palm Springs. I assume that someone died in an accident but it been there for several months and includes solar lights that glow when we take our now infamous 4 am walks through the dark desert landscape. Seeing it that first time made me pause and begin to remember how humans remember the past, loved ones, success in war, success of the heart.
   
The evolving memorial in daylight.
While we usually walk very early ... that 4 am feeding you know ... but sometimes I feed her then crawl back into bed. Occasionally I walk our nighttime route during the day and was amazed at how much the memorial changed from day to day. Clearly someone cared and was deeply missed.
     On a sad note though, today when we walked past during a glorious sunrise, the memorial was gone. Only a few pieces remained scattered across the empty land.
     Why are memorials so important to us? What do they signify? I began to notice shrines appearing in our neighborhood when more and more Asians, many from Viet Nam or China placed them on the ubiquitous fireplaces that every one of the houses had on our street. In the early morning glow you would see red electric lights on a mysterious, to Western eyes, shrine that had little statues, fruit and the ever glowing red lights.
Like Shelly's "Ozymandias", nothing besides remains
   
Home Buddhist Shrinemore intimate and immediate!
      On inquiry, I was told these shrines kept the memory of past ancestors alive to the living and each light was a person they would pray for. Not all that different from some Christian traditions ... only we usually do that in a church. This is
Memorial Flowers for Princess Di
     When Princess Di died in the car crash the sudden and spontaneous cascade of flowers that appeared in London brought worldwide attention to this phenomenon. Who can forget the days of memorials and scenes of thousands of mourners who paid their respect with flowers? Thousands of flowers.
     Suddenly it became okay for people to create scenes such as this in memory of those that passed ... for whatever reason.

Road Side Memorials are
everywhere today
 
     Who has not driven along the a highway and not witnessed a scene such as this? In passing you have to wonder what happened, what tragedy was here that caused loved ones and others to return to pay their respect? As we scurry by, I am sure that more than a few of us hope that such a need will not be required for us. Do we slow down just a little? Do we watch the road a bit more carefully? Do we think of those that died here? 
Entrance into Jerash, Jordan
     The tradition of celebrating some event has been with us through the ages. I can remember my visit to Jerash, Jordan. To enter the ancient Roman city, you went through a memorial arch constructed by Hadrian in celebration of defeating whomever lived there at the time. Of course, the effect of such monuments is both inspiring as it reminds us of past victories and the people who won them. Such Roman monuments litter the ancient Roman Empire and have inspired far more modern men to erect them too! Napoleon's "Arc de triomphe" in Paris, the Arch in Washington Square in NYC and the famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. All iconic sights that instantly bring to mind where they are. And, I might add, owe their design and inspiration from Ancient Rome.
 
Memorial to those who perished in the OKC bombing
   Sadly, we only seem to remember the tragedies of life. When I was traveling to Memphis with my daughter with the car we were giving her, we stopped along the way at a variety of places. One was in Oklahoma City. After eating a wonderful meal in an area of old warehouses converted into a trendy attraction of shops and eateries, we were encouraged to see the memorial of those who has died at the bombing of the Murrah Building by Timothy Mc Vie. Since it was Memorial Day weekend we weren't sure of what we would see but we later found out it is open 24 / 7 and that people come to pay their respects rain or shine.
     To not be moved by the serenity of the scene and realize the enormity of the building, the site is in the footprint of the original building, you have to gasp. 168 people died. There is a chair for each and every one, large for adults, small for children, with a light underneath and during our visit a small American flag alongside each chair. The site is marked at each end with a marker that tells the time it started and the time it ended. I cried. Only a minute had passed.
     Across the street, the parsonage of the old Methodist Church was also destroyed. In its place is a stature of Christ, hands covering his face, crying. The inscription reads simply, "Jesus wept."

The 9 / 11 Memorial in New York City
    There are countless memorials to humans, their deeds and often misdeeds. However, for many, especially those living on September 9, 2001, no memorial brings greater sadness than remembering that fateful day when so many died and so many structures came down with them. When I was in NYC before the new memorial opened I just couldn't visit the site. The memory of seeing the second plane hit Trade Tower 1 as I waited for the Super Shuttle to take me to LAX for a flight to Chicago that morning was just too much. I remember walking my dog the next day and looking up startled, and just a little bit scared when a military plane flew overhead.
     There are many monuments and traditions that cover the world ... all designed by men and women that remind us of what has been. To forget them, is to then relive these same events or as the great
Spanish philosopher Santayana said, "Those that forget history are doomed to relive it." Is that what we really want?
Oakland,  CA rave fire memorial
     How many times, how many lives do we have to lose to learn this very basic lesson? Right now we are mourning all those that died in Oakland, CA at a Rave concert because of senseless practices that many knew was a time bomb just waiting to happen. You have to wonder, how many fires, shady prevention practices, do we need to forego such senseless tragedies? Even sadder yet, no matter who is found to blame, no matter how large the fines and long the jail sentences are, the dead will not, cannot be, brought back. There will always be accidents, things that we cannot predict nor protect against, but those that can be and are not is unacceptable. Not today, not ever.
     So to all those people out there that hated and often flunked history, there is a lesson in all of this. Start remembering and stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why We Need The Hallmark Channel In This Time of Chaos

     At 71, I am in the midst of remodeling probably my last home, or if you will condo ... well, unless it's to the "home" or 6 feet under. While it was a good deal, or so I thought at the time, it is turning out to be a lot more work than I ever imagined. It turned out that every room needs to be repainted, the kitchen gutted and rebuilt from scratch. You get the picture.
     After a far too long marathon session painting what will be the master bedroom, I come back to the condo I am renting and living in until I get my own condo ready, tired ... dead tired. I shaved, showered and then napped. Waking up in a near stupor I flicked through the channels and discovered a Christmas show on the Hallmark Channel ... you know the one that always has a predictable plot and a happy ending. After all, isn't there enough violence in our daily lives? Why do we, Hollywood and television feel compelled to add any more? Happy endings was exactly all that I wanted!
     One of my all time favorite movies is "Bringing Up Baby" a frothy screwball comedy starring
Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, both very favorite actors. It recounts how the two meet, she falls for him, he is too dense to understand that so she uses her brothers pet Jaguar "Baby" to keep getting them together. It is funny, so funny in fact that the first time I rented it to watch with the kids we laughed so hard we had to watch it again to get to see and hear all the dialogue. It was the perfect movie for me as a harried parent and the kids who loved the complete silliness. There was no "dirty language," sex scenes other than an innuendo they would never understand ... it was, well, clean wholesome fun, something that most movies today, unless its a cartoon, seem to have forgotten.

     Another very funny film from the era of black and white comedies is James Stewart in "Harvey." Stewart plays a befuddled man who sees a pooka named Harvey. Of course he is a total embarrassment to the entire family. It was only after watching this silliness many times that I suddenly realized that not only did Stewart see the pooka ... so did his sister. I cannot forget the scene when she goes to get him committed, walks into the director's office, looks around and notes, "Good, we are alone, he's not here." The director isn't so sure who he should commit.

     As I watched Hallmark's, "A Christmas List" it dawned on me that there are times in our lives where we need such movies, such fantasy as we try to deal with a chaotic world.        
     That very day's news revealed, thank God, yet another terrorist plot in France that had been foiled. We have survived a brutal election only to find a state recounting the votes disbelieving the disenchantment of its own citizens, Democrats and Republican reeling at their defeat, pollsters and journalists shamefaced, tension in the Middle East that never ends ... and on and on.
     All I wanted was respite from all this. I was tired, sore, feeling my age and wanted entertainment for an occasional chuckle, to feel good not wanting horror, violence, anything else but just to feel good watching a show that would affirm what all humans want ... to be loved, love and honored.
     In fact yesterday I came back after painting what will be the "studio" for six hours, had pickles, radishes and a Diet Coke for lunch, showered and fell into bed for a nap. It turns out I missed both a phone call and text messages ... and the phone was right next to me on the bed!
     I do miss the simple comedies of old. Visiting the Ice House in Pasadena a few years back we saw Fritz Coleman, the weather guy on NBC 4 in Los Angeles. He started his career as a comedian and was lured away from comedy to do the weather on TV. Stating he knew nothing about the weather, he was told, "This is LA. What weather?" His routine was funny. What impressed me more than anything else though was that he never said one "dirty" word, an anomaly today where curse words fill the space of real comment. I can remember how CBS drummed the Smothers Brothers off the air for a blue word or two as well as their opinions about the Vietnamese War. In one sense they were vindicated when CBS's true star, Walter Cronkite, said on the air after a tour of Viet Nam that we had lost the war. And "dirty words?" Today,  regarding the use of "blue" words, just about anything goes.
     Robert Hilburn, the music critic for the Los Angeles Times for many years used to lambast any song that the Carpenters sang. People he praised we hardly hear about now but how many Carpenter songs could you hum right now? "Rainy Days & Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun," "On Top of the World?" Near the end of his career as a critic he wrote movingly about the Carpenters and in essence apologized for his reviews noting that he himself would hum one of their songs, that their music though saccharine had lasting power, something that legions of fans already knew.
     That could be the comment and need for the Hallmark Channel. Love, love lost and love regained has holding power. After all, it will be love that redeems us all ... in the end.
   

Friday, November 25, 2016

When Was The Last Time You Actually Talked To A Human Receptionist?

Please hold. Due to increased caller volume, lead times are especially long today.  Please hold and we will be with your shortly. Your call is so important to us. Thank you for holding.

Sound familiar? It should. This is close to the standard answer every caller in the United States gets each and every day when they call just about everybody ... utility, credit card, department store, the government, especially the DMV to make a worthless appointment time.

In fact, I got so angry once trying to get a software issue resolved I called at 3 am in the morning and got the same recording. After waiting for 45 minutes I asked the operator, when he finally came on line, "What, there is only one person there? For the whole world?" And he told the truth admitting there was only one person answering the phone. So remember, the only business that is important to just about any company today seems to be that you should buy their product and good luck with the rest! This is the fodder for "Dilbert" each and every day!
Ernestine the telephone lady. "We don't
have to because, snort snort, we're the
telephone company."

Since this blog is about design ... the design of all facets of our lives, making a call on your phone and the response you get has been very carefully designed. In fact, I make it a practice now to compliment whomever answers before I get a taped message and long wait times. Does it help? I hope so. I know that I am sent to the person I need to talk to and even if it is their message machine, I didn't have to wait 30 minutes to leave a message.

Those of you in my age range (71) may remember a very funny TV show from the 70's called "Laugh-In." An hour
long it had a series of skits each week with comedians and actors who became and remained famous long after this show was gone. One of the funniest was the Lily Tomlin character Ernestine from the Telephone Company who would snort, it was a near monopoly at the time, snort snort "We don't have to ... we're the telephone company," snort with a wicked giggle. Her interaction with telephone customers, if real and maybe they were, would have set customer service back 100 years. Little did we know that what was comedy then would soon be reality today ... and not just at the phone company!

Just like "1984" predicted the time of Big Brother watching everything we do and ANIMAL FARM that predicted the relationships of the have's and have-not's, we live in a time where companies talk about customer service more than ever before, but where the reality, ever more less service, is worse than ever before. We wait and wait. The testament to poor product design, warranties, government forms is that more people, not less, need help, and the proof is the long times we have to wait ... on the phone or in line. If the items were made better, the product was better designed, the forms were clear there would be far less need for this. Again, the reality is proof that it isn't with a increasingly frustrated society.

Indian call centers are often the worst. What did you say?
Are you speaking English?
Telephone calls to even place an order is often a trip to the seven stages of hell. You called, placed your order and when the item didn't arrive you had to make another call to find out if the first order's call had been taken. Another wards, you had to be the buyer and the seller because "we have been so busy." Get a little busier and you won't have to worry about being busy again ... no one will buy your product. I don't know about you but ... I have a list. Sort of like the ditty from "The Mikado'" "I have a little list, I have a little list and I bet they won't be missed, I know they won't be missed."
Just hang me up to dry!

Has automation really made our lives better? How many times have you been urged to leave a callback number because the wait times are so long and then never been called back? I have seen people get a call, listen to the message and then ignore it. Is it any wonder that companies like Amazon are successful? You place your order, they repeat your order to be sure you got what you thought you ordered, then receive a confirming email after the order is placed giving you time to change something and then receive another email when the item is shipped with a tracking number. No driving, trying to find a parking place at the mall where you don't have to walk the length of a football stadium to just get inside, find an item you like only to find it is not in your size (if you're lucky its at another store), no snotty or could care less sales associate (don't you love the new titles?) nor a trek back to the car or fighting the traffic to get home because you got caught in rush hour that in Los Angeles lasts 24/7.

While we can laugh at this poster I can guarantee you that after 30, 45 or even a 60 minute wait you will not be laughing. Clearly this poster has no sense of what customer service is ... yet I bet they certainly demand it when they come calling. If companies really cared they would hire more people. I would hazard a guess that their overpaid management could do with a lot less salary that would free up money to hire those that actually have to talk and work with the public. Big box and even smaller stores had better listen up because there's still gold in them thar hills but it won't be in some big box store, it will be somewhere up in the cloud.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016


   This year, and I guess for any year, as a person, or we as a people and country have much to give thanks for. Sometimes in the heat of election rhetoric we lose that thankfulness but we need to remember that despite all the words and deeds and emotional feelings, as one very chastened journalist noted, the day after the election the sun still rose and the United States was still here. And, we can give thanks that the election is finally over!
     Personally, for me, this past year has been one of astounding change.  In fact as I walked my dog this glorious morning in Palm Springs I realized that I had literally recreated my life, re-designed it if you will and lived another lifetime, in one year.  It was as similar moving here at 70 as it was in 1969 when I returned from Peace Corps Liberia and had to become an adult at the age of 24.
     One year ago I was living in an assisted living home ... and as any senior will attest, hated every minute of it. The month before I had filed for divorce and in a week after Thanksgiving I had a court date to determine whether I would be free to move and live again wherever I wished.
     In case I achieved my freedom, I didn't want a memory of Thanksgiving at the home. So with my trusty iPhone app that could tell me which bus to take, I decided that I would go to the Los Angeles Car Show, trading walkers and wheelchairs for real cars at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Luckily for me the same bus would carry me from Alhambra, CA to the convention center in something over an hour.
     I didn't have to worry about comments about me getting into whatever car I wanted, the Convention Center was filled with guys whose families no doubt wanted them out of their hair at home so we roamed at will trying out just about any car. It was a fun day and I found that many of the women giving their spiels about the cars were flirty. We all had a good time.
     The court date of December 4th launched a whirlwind of activity! I was given my freedom, the truck keys, support and could, if I wanted, move anywhere I wished. Friends in Palm Springs knew of a condo for rent at a reasonable cost and going out to meet them and getting the owners to agree to letting me rent with my dog, signed a lease for a year.
     I chose Palm Springs for many reasons. I had been visiting there with a friend for several months and I liked the small town feel. Halloween, the things to do and see, the electric light parade, the weekly street fair but more than anything it wasn't crowded like anywhere in the Los Angeles basin.
     In the midst of getting the condo set up from scratch I flew to Portland, OR for Christmas to stay with family there. I was raised in Portland and had cousins and an aunt and friends still living there. It was the first of several trips I would take this coming year.
     I moved on January 4, 2016 struggling over many days to rebuild my life from scratch and deal with the things my wife had boxed up of mine. In a month, I had to begin again and haven't looked back. I might add though, you can't believe how much stuff you might own until its boxed up!!!
     At the end of 2015 I met a man that I had chatted with online. He was visiting from Hong Kong and staying with friends in LA. I drove from Palm Springs to meet him and we hit it off. After he left, we continued to chat online and when he invited me to visit Hong Kong in February right after Chinese New Year all I could do was look around at the boxes that filled every room and say thank you but no. He persisted saying that it was a golden opportunity to see the city without a huge hotel bill. I checked prices and finally agreed to go. However, my passport would expire in less than six months when I left but Cathay Pacific assured me I could visit just not go anywhere else in Asia. So leaving all my still packed boxes behind, I went.
     My HK friend came to visit me in early April and we both discovered there really is so much to do here that we didn't even begin to do it all. When he left I promised another visit later this year.
     At the end of April my truck was stolen here in the condo complex. So much for gates ... or keys for that matter. When the policeman came to write the report we could both look at the keys and remote hanging from a box on the bookcase. To make matters worse I had again booked a flight to Vancouver, BC in a few days so still unpacking (where did ALL the stuff come from?) I again boarded a flight to Vancouver, BC via San Francisco. I won't go into a diatribe here but SFO has to be the worst airport in the world ... well, maybe LAX is worse. Finally, delayed flights and immigration in Vancouver over, I caught the last ferry to Vancouver Island! Had a wonderful visit there and returned home to begin looking for a car to replace my stolen 13 year-old pickup truck!
     The concept of discounts seems to allude dealers in the Coachella Valley. Their discounted price is the MSRP from the manufacturer, seriously. Posting what I wanted online, the best price was from a dealer 90 minutes away but saving over $4,000 in cost and taxes was worth the drive. So I am now the owner of a glowing red Mazda CX-5! Its a great little car, has lots of wonderful new features and costs about half to own than the truck. As a friend noted, "Whoever stole it did you a favor. That thing was a beast." Of course, he was right.
     I joined an art group and we have had several shows including two that I am showing items in right now! Many, many talented artists here and I am humbled to show with them.
     I again visited Hong Kong in July ... a weather mistake. Here, where it reached 122º one day, when you go outside you can feel the juice being sucked out of you! In HK when you go outside its like someone threw a bucket of water at you. Instant sweat. Never one for heat, (yes, I know Palm Springs? Go figure) it took a few days just to be brave to go anywhere during the day ... not that it mattered much. The difference between day and night was about 5º! Still it was fun and I even got to swim in the South China Sea on Lama Island, a boat ride from HK.
     In September I attended an HOA meeting here at the complex and heard one of the board members mention that he was selling his condo, literally behind where I rent with nearly the same exact layout. Discussing this with friends, they urged me to make an offer. I did and after much soul searching and gathering funds, I made an offer and searched for a loan. When I am finally moved, the monthly bill to own will be only a bit more than what I am paying in rent.
     We sealed the deal in October and have been busy renovating the condo since. New paint, an entire new kitchen, it will hopefully be where I remain to the end of my days. What makes it very appealing is that I can walk from my front door to the departure gate at the airport in under 15 minutes! From PSP you can get connecting flights to anywhere in the world.
     My friend returned to Palm Springs in time for Halloween where we dressed up; me as a Mandarin scholar and he as a Samari soldier. We fit right in with the show downtown.  We left the next day for New Mexico to visit my sister. To him where a "small" city is 3 million, it was a shock to go to across the desert to the countryside of New Mexico, where if you blinked you would miss my sister's road! It was dark, darker than he had even seen on land.
     Yes, it has been some year. Looking back I wondered did I script this? Was this my design? Or, more likely, was it what happened and did I finally learn to go with the flow taking advantage of each new opportunity that came along? I think that it was, I finally decided to live my life, not the script that was not my own that I had had since birth.
     Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. There are many, many gifts in this life; all we have to do it look for them, accept them and finally, be grateful for them. There surely will be tragedy, heartbreak, despair ... that is a given or as F. Scott Peck said at the beginning of his wonderful book, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, "Life is hard." What makes us human is what we make of everything that life throws at us.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

No Mystery Why Apple's Sales Are Down; Try To Buy An iPhone 7

I bought my first iPhone on June 29, 2007, the day they first became available. I was number 222 at the Glendale, CA Apple store. I was probably the oldest person there, at least in my line of vision, surrounded by young whipper-snappers with more toys than Best Buy. I was stunned to see them so eager to buy something that many of us (really) didn't think would work all that well. After all, I had a Motorola Razor in my pocket and I hated that phone. It was, to use an old term, "the cat's meow!" To me, that meow was more like a screech.

A friend had dragged me to MacWorld in January that year, my first in fact, and we walked into the Moscone Center just as Jobs was finishing his keynote speech. In the foyer was an image of the iPhone at least 40 or 50 feet high. We all stood looking at it stunned. It was nothing like what anyone had surmised it would look like. Truth be told, it is still an iconic design and the standard that everyone else copies and tries to sell. In fact, the return to the original soft, rounded edges makes it a natural fit in your hand ... just like the very first one whose design luckily works with the two newest phones that are  much larger than the original!

My next phone was a iPhone 3 ... I don't upgrade every year as my plan with AT&T didn't allow that. So the next phone was a iPhone 5 and then now, at this very moment an iPhone 6.

This has been a very reliable phone and suffered through iOS 8, surely the most miserable of all the iOS's, successful through iOS 9 and now iOS10. I am a camera buff using my iPhone for many photos on trips that depend on the amazing panorama software that makes for stunning phones when printed in my Apple albums I frequently make from my trips. In fact, its low light sensitivity is better than that of my Nikon 3200 DSLR!

When I saw the ads and photos taken with the new iPhone 7+ I knew that I had to have one. Here in my pocket would be a camera that was always with me, took much better photos than far bigger cameras and with at least 128 GB of storage would hardly ever run out, movies on board or not.

There is just one problem. Getting one. I started looking into getting one about a month after they came out. If anyone else has had the same experience as me, and I would guess there are just as many as me ... probably far more, it looks like Apple has bitten off more than it can chew. The Apple Store in Palm Desert, CA, my nearest store, hasn't had a phone for sale in apparently weeks. Someone, somewhere IS getting them but not in the desert nor for that matter anywhere in at least a 100 mile circumference from me. The Apple store thoughtfully lists the availability of each color, size and RAM. Other than an occasional rose gold (I'm sorry Apple, pink IS pink) in 256RAM they are harder to find than chicken teeth. On reflection, worse!

So, at the end of October, a full month after they became available, there are just about none to be had. And, I have tried. The AT&T store says depending on color and RAM it can be 4 - 8 weeks. That's even worse than the Apple Store. So ... if 70% of Apple's sales are from iPhones and you can't get one, how does this affect the bottom line. I can tell you ... declining sales. Despite the critics, its not, as they keep insisting, that we don't want one, we simply can't get one. Can it be that Apple got caught with their pants down? Did they listen maybe a little too much to the critics, the analysts? I think so. Hopefully, with the release, finally, of their new laptops and serious upgrades to Apple TV, they turn a blind eye to the soothsayers and pay far more attention to what is going on online and in their stores.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Huey Long (Eugene McCarthy - your choice) vs. Lady MacBeth


I am an American. Not a German-American or English-American, just a plain old American. That said I could be a hyphenated American because my father was German. His family immigrated from Saxony to the United States in the 1920's. I am first generation. My mother, however, is almost directly descended from the White's that came over on the Mayflower in 1620. So then yes, I am a WASP - white, anglo-saxon, protestant.

I love America. I was born in Ohio while my father was a translator at the Nuremberg trials. I grew up in Oregon, went to Oklahoma State for college and after a stint in the Peace Corps ended up in California in 1970. Aged 71 now, I have lived more than half my life here.

I am also a Republican ... an ashamed Republican but still perilously hanging on to the Grand Old Party, a party I have no doubt that Lincoln would find disgraceful. My earliest memories of being a Republican are of me standing on a street corner in Portland, OR handing out, at the age of 7, "I Like Ike" buttons" to passers-by. I wish I still had a few of them in fact. I really liked Ike then and still do. Years later I realized we shared the exact same birthday - October 14th. In college I campaigned for Barry Goldwater driving down the rural roads in Oklahoma stapling Barry's campaign signs all over the countryside. As a young adult I was involved with the old 59th Republican Congressional Central Committee in Los Angeles and was even the committee president several years until my first child was born and I had new responsibilities.

Huey Long of Louisiana in his heyday!
A student of American history, Teddy Roosevelt is my hero and feel that if we ever needed him the time was now. Even though she is a Democrat, my current political hero is Elizabeth Warren who, like Roosevelt, stands up for what is right and is merciless to the creeps that tear down the fabric of our social contract, the Constitution, while enriching themselves.

Watching the debate Wednesday it became apparent to me just how flawed BOTH candidates are. Trump caused me to "remember" the legacy of Huey Long from Louisiana who was a demagogue that could, under the right circumstance, have brought the republic down. Watch Trump again. There is little difference.

Hillary as Lady Macbeth
Then watching Clinton I suddenly seized on the memory of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. After all, she had killed her first husband. To me the contrasts of Hillary and Elizabeth were striking. Here was one grilling and condemning the CEO of Wells Fargo for an unbelievable dereliction of leadership while our candidate was making cosy, and getting paid quite well, with the very people who nearly brought down not only our own economy but narrowly missed destroying the economy of the entire world. In its wake you have the Middle East, China and Europe still trying to dig themselves out of this morass.

So we have a candidate that is the poster boy for greed, and is proud of it, and a candidate that left a trail of blood throughout the Middle East, that not only set up her own private server (she was first lady 8 years ... she knew better) but after being subpoenaed to produce all of her illicit emails turned around and destroyed over 33,000 of them. Actually, I am surprised they can't find them. It is my understanding that once written they are out there somewhere in the cloud because once written they never go away no matter how hard you try. Somewhere, they are on the server of the Internet provider she used.

Guardians of the middle class? Any class other than their own? I doubt it. If any normal citizen had said and done the things these two brush off as inconsequential, we would be behind bars. Seriously. Think about it.

However, they both have their admirers ... people that believe in them no matter what kind of things they have said or have done. But not all. Watching PBS News last night, they had a feature on extremely poor citizens of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They struggle every day to survive and their take on either political party is not kind. They all, every single one, feel abandoned. After 8 years of a Democratic presidency they look at Trump, a "dazzling" billionaire as someone outside the political morass of Washington who provides hope. Like Trump said, "What do they have to lose?" I wonder if Caesar Augustus told the Roman senate something similar.The United States is a great nation. It has welcomed, more or less reluctantly, people from all over the world. Some have succeeded beyond all expectations and made our lives better and been a beacon of light. That said, I also am more than aware of the flaws in our system. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, often traveling across the continent, talked to many that maybe admired us but certainly didn't want to live like us. I remember bringing news reels to my small village and showing them the flight of Apollo 11. They were incredulous and couldn't believe that we flew around the same moon they could go outside and see that night. While the youngsters wanted to come and many did during 25 years of civil war, most stayed home. LBJ suffered the same delusions. He just couldn't believe that every Vietnamese didn't want to be like us.

The struggle is fairness, leveling the playing field so that all have a chance to succeed. Isn't that the very reason of the Revolution? Taxation without representation? There is no "official" royal family in the United States but we are a stratified society nevertheless. With enough money, you can get off the hook, the same hook I would imagine that most of my readers could not escape. For readers of ANIMAL FARM, the sign on the barn at the beginning of the book said, "All animals are equal." At the end of the book, when the pigs (very apt I might add) take over, the sign now reads, "Some animals are more equal than others."

We design, believe it or not, the society that we live in. Every vote, every law passed or reviewed by the courts, creates (designs) our society. If you don't think so, read the United States Constitution. It is quite clear in what can and cannot be done. While the document is nearly 250 years old it contains many truths and much wisdom on how to create and live in a moderate, secular society. The Constitution is a social contract between it's citizens and the citizens we elect to represent us. This is something many groups in this country have ignored to the point of creating an idealogical chasm that seems, at least before this election, impossible to cross. America's greatness is its ability to meet and compromise ... not dictate! That Trump would even allude to not accepting the vote of the electoral college is anathema to our very system of government. To even hint at this is to say goodbye to the American Republic and usher in Imperial America ... PAX Americana. More than one historian has observed the similarities of Ancient Rome and its potential here in the United States. Let's hope and pray they are wrong.

I make no recommendations but instead hope you will vote or as Edmund Burke observed in 1795 as America struggled to become a nation, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” I DO urge you to vote! Every vote counts as Al Gore acknowledged the other day; he lost the Presidency of the United States by about 567 votes. For better, or worse, the republic must go on. You do count. Please VOTE!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transforming White Paper Masks Into A Halloween Costume

White paper masks
When I first stumbled on these white paper masks in a small but amazing "general" store in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island in Canada last April, I just looked at them and moved on. What on earth could you do with these, I thought? However, as I continued to be amazed at the unique and very inexpensive art supplies in this store, I suddenly remembered my friend was coming to visit me around Halloween here in Palm Springs.

Snowbirds, Gays and everything in between go all out for Halloween in Palm Springs. No, it's not a raunchy affair like in West Hollywood ... more of a family affair, more or less. Jesus was our bartender at Lulu's, we saw men dressed, and quite well I might add, as Polynesian beauties, the Pope with his girlfriend, even a dominatrix leading her husband around with a chain around his neck. Even the kids get involved. Third place in the evenings costume contest went to siblings dressed (and quite well too) as minions, one of my favorite cartoon characters!

While I haven't worn a costume in years, I was so intrigued by what I saw on a visit last Halloween I decided that this year, friend from China in hand, we would dress up! But as what? I bought the two white masks and thought that I would be inspired by masks for sale at the weekly street fair and what I remembered from New Orleans and Brazil. But a costume too? Never!!!

Two sided - red and black reversible
robe with amazing embroidery

When I visited Hong Kong again last July (2016) I mentioned to my friend that it would be nice to find something we could buy and wear in Palm Springs for Halloween. Even more reluctant than me, we toured the seemingly endless opportunities to shop there. If you haven't been to the Night Market on Temple Street in Kowloon, open from 6 pm to midnight every night, you have truly missed a shopping opportunity of the first order! It may be, ugh, junk, but fun junk. Really!

We struck gold though when walking through one of about three malls at The Peak, the top of a mountain behind Hong Kong with a spectacular view of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, especially on a clear night! Looking at all kinds of things we really didn't need, we stumbled on a row of racks crammed with robes. The first few were eh, but as we worked our way down the row we found more and more beautiful sateen robes with amazing embroidery on both sides! They were $269 HK dollars, too rich for my blood until Qiang said, that is about $35 American. Trying one on (one must be very careful in Hong Kong ... their large would be very small to an American), I found it fit perfectly and I liked the slinky feeling of the fabric with, even if machine made, beautiful embroidery.
Traditional Mandarin hat with pigtail

I bought it. Then I told him I needed a traditional Mandarin hat so I could dress as an educated Mandarin from the old days. He said he knew just the place.

On another day of shopping (I swear this is the national sport and the locals know the prices of absolutely everything too!) he took me to an alley lined with shops. These small shops are everywhere and usually line the alleys with small booths stuck up near the walls where shopkeepers sell just about anything you can imagine and maybe more. There, hanging on the wall alongside the shop were latex masks of just about everyone famous you might know along with those you don't. Inside the dark dim shop we found the proprietor, not a very friendly sort, and inquired about the hat I wanted. She went somewhere and returned with a stack of red and black hats, complete with golden embroidery and the old traditional pigtail. I bought it.

To make the costume complete I searched for but couldn't find the type of shoes they would wear and figured black Crocs would give about the same effect. I mean here, we never worry about the rain.

Could this be a tiger mask?
When I came home I pulled out the two masks but just couldn't decide just how I could use them in my costume. Then, after my friend sent me a photo of a tiger backpack he bought for his costume I realized I could convert the large, butterfly shaped mask into a tiger face! How easy (or hard) would that be?

Comparing the photo he sent to the colors of paint I had or could mix up, I decided to paint the entire mask a tiger tan color. However, the shape seemed to be a real obstacle. I forged on first adding the white brows, cheeks and other white areas of the face where they would appear cutout or not. After I was satisfied with the white, I let that dry and using the end of a flat brush more of less squashed the paint tip down on the face to create the tiger stripes. It was far more fun than I ever thought.

The finished tiger mask
I used DecoArts Traditions paint for their opaqueness and was pleased with the coverage I got considering the mask was painted completely tan. The Traditions white and black coming later had no problem with coverage. Letting this dry, I put on a bit more white and then a bit more black especially around the eyes making sure the stripes stood out from the tan face. All considered, especially since you won't see the nose, I think it does a credible job of capturing a tiger's face with an unusual, butterfly shape!

I used DecoArts Matte varnish, two coats in fact, to give the paper more strength and to protect the paint from sweat and such.

While it may have looked difficult, the tiger mask proved to be the easier mask to paint. Using a small butterfly shape with very definite formed lines and circles proved to be more of a challenge.

The raw, white butterfly mask

I realized the mask had to mirror the robe and hat so I used matte black paint top and bottom leaving the central flat area red. To pick up the gold embroidery on both the hat and the robe I used gold for accents. Painting the black first proved a challenge when I used red in a band across the mask around the eyes. Several coats were needed to hide the black.

Because it was so detailed, I ended up using a liner brush to paint the gold! I again used Traditions paints ... black and Naphtha Red and got pretty good coverage even though I was sloppy with the black. Interestingly, the gold paint I used from the old Delta line did an amazing job of covering both sloppy red or black paint.  
The Chinese themed mask ... finished?

Finished Chinese themed mask ... bling and all!
The Chinese Mandarin costume
I liked the look of this mask and had to admit it works well with the costume. However, a neighbor noted that I should use some of the Michael's jewels I was planning on using on a new birdhouse. Jewels? Really? It isn't gaudy enough? They assured me, glam was in and so I relented and agreed to add "jewels" to the gold circles for a bit more bling. I guess if I had come this far, what was a bit more? After all this is Palm Springs and excess of anything is not unheard of. After adding the jewels I had to admit they really did give the mask more of a Mardi Gras look, one that would be perfect for Halloween.

You may be wondering how does it all fit together? Was I too crazy? I don't know, look for yourself? Is this costume a keeper? Something to trot out every year? It certainly was fun for me to design and put together.

I think the lesson here is that we need to always be aware of the things we stumble upon, no matter where, and to grasp how they might be used in our creations. Did I design this? Certainly! And, you can too. It just takes the time to gather things you like, see how they might work together and then work on the parts so that they DO work together. Here, by using black, red and gold, I was able to design an outfit that mimics what might have been seen in days past. It ties together with color items that we might otherwise have never seen.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has.