Friday, February 1, 2019

Technology, Batteries & Me!

AT&T telephone with dial
     Since I was a child in the 50's, technology has gotten more and more complicated. Several events in the past few months has brought this lesson to roost right here, in my daily life!
21st Century cell phone

   I well remember the good old black bakelite AT&T telephones. They were connected to the wall via a cord and usually it sat on a desk in the living room. It was rare that you had more than one. It had a distinctive ring you hear on many state-of-the-art cell phones today and a very short cord. I know mine has that ring. It had a dial and you picked it up to listen first for the dial tone and if no one was talking you "dialed" the number. We had a two party line at first. You knew it was for you as each party had a different ring. My grandparents had one that hung on the wall and you had to crank it to get an operator who then placed the call for you. As for long distance calls, well, it wasn't until the 60's in Oregon, 70's in Lancaster, CA, you could make a direct call!
      Remember the kerkaffle about video phones? First shown at the 1964 World's Fair in New York everyone said they didn't want one. What about their hair? Their makeup? When first Skype came along, then Apple made everyone of their products with built-in cameras there was hardly a whimper. Then came Apple FaceTime and you could talk to anyone else with an Apple product ... iMac, Mac Book, iPad and iPhone and people never worried about such things again.
Now you have a phone, a video and
photo camera, texting and
Internet surfing in your pocket!
    Today, we worry about the battery life of our cellular phones that do just about everything but make a call! I know I never take a camera on trips anymore. My iPhone does just fine (though I carry a plug and cord with me just in case it needs a charge)!
If my neighbor hadn't shown me I would have never
found the key hidden in the fob. You push a button
on the door, it opens and you then push a button
on the dash to start the car!
       A day or two before last Christmas my car started acting wonky. Getting it to start became a kind of ritual dance. The car wouldn't open, then it wouldn't start. My fob doesn't appear to have a key but luckily a friend showed me there was one and how to open the fob to access it. Finally on Christmas Day no ritual worked and I called AAA, reluctantly, to have them come start the car. He came out, checked the battery and said it was on the edge of failing and since I had been told batteries last 2 - 4 years here in the desert figured that at nearly 3 years it was time. The car started. 
     However, the next day, the car wouldn't start and while the dance ritual finally worked I drove straight to the dealer to see what was wrong. He heard my tale and then said, lets go to parts. I brought both fobs with me and both didn't work. There he had the parts man change the batteries for a total of $12.00 and the car has started every time since.
1963 VW car keys
     My first car was a Volkswagen and that little 1963 blue baby had two keys. One to get in the car and start it my twisting the key in the ignition and the other to open the rear engine compartment and the glove box. No keys, no enter. Pretty much the same today. After my truck was stolen I had them put in a kill switch. I leave with the fob and nothing happens. You try to force you way into the car and the horn starts sounding. I check it from time to time to make sure too. However, it isn't foolproof. I made quite a show at Costco when the alarm went off and I HAD the keys. Finally, I got it to stop.
Casio watches lasted forever.
      I got an Apple watch because it has many medical features that at 73 I need to be aware of. It takes your pulse, has you breathe now and then, records your pulse rate and steps taken each and every day. The newest one has an EKG feature built in, has a feature that if you fall and don't respond calls 911 and may soon be approved for measuring your insulin levels. It can go into the water up to 30 ft. for swimmers and you can talk to it (with an iPhone nearby, like Dick Tracey) and even receive and send text messages. However, for me at best I have about a two, two and a half  day battery life before it gives me dire warnings.
Besides being a watch it is also
a darn good medical device
designed to monitor and record
your health.
     There was nothing wrong with my old, trusty Casio but it was, well a watch. You could set an alarm and use it, clumsily as a stop watch but it was pretty limited.
     The Apple watch, while expensive, but compared to the cheapest Rolex watch, is cheaper by many times, and it does a great many more things than tell time, and the date. One of the features that I try to neglect and when I do it get rewarded with an "attaboy" is to stand. I get so involved with painting or cooking or reading that I have learned to stand when it says too and realize how stiff I have become.
       The final straw in this modern battery saga was last night when I wanted to watch the evening news. My Vizio TV wouldn't turn on. It worked fine the night before and no matter what I did, new cord, new outlet, plugged and unplugged it, nothing would induce it to turn on. Finally I pleaded for help from my younger, tech savvy friend.
Who can forget the clunk, de-clunk, de-clunk as the
first remotes went through the channels.
     He came over and after touching every inch of the TV found it's very small and almost hidden turn on switch. He pushed it and the TV turned on. However, without the remote we couldn't do anything still. I had replaced the batteries but it turns out one of the batteries had leaked and fowled the wires. With a cotton swab and 91 proof alcohol we cleaned the connections, put the batteries back in and vióla, it worked! He pointed out that companies use the cheapest batteries they can find so after he left I changed every remote in the house with new Duracell batteries.
     Again, this is quite a change from my youth where you had to get up and manually change the channels. Remember? I can remember the very first remotes. My aunt and uncle had a huge Zenith console with a TV, record player, AM-FM radio in a lovely wood cabinet. They had the first remote I had ever seen. Today, much comedy ensues as some member of the household looks for a misplaced remote or the kids tussle with each other to have command over the TV. 
     So, like it or not, we are a battery driven world. What will become of us when all our cars are battery powered? Or the remote doesn't work. One of the funniest videos I have ever seen was of a woman trying to get into the car and the remote didn't work. Someone came along, got out the key and opened the door for her. Been there and, well, done that!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Creating Geometric Planters and Furniture

Items such as this were inspirations!

For years now I have been fascinated by hand painted furniture that used wild colors and unusual shapes. When I started painting, years ago now,  I started with Pennsylvania Dutch inspired birdhouses. It could have been my German heritage or my love of primary colors and the fanciful designs that didn't have to be perfect. Visiting the Shenandoah Valley I hoped to see so much more only to find I was more enamored with the old designs than the locals!
     I did find though that furniture making was still alive and well and in one shop I saw a chair painted in something like the one on the left. I was hooked but it was years before I actually tried something like it.
Ah ... the possibilities
     Last summer I was wandering the local JoAnn's and checking out the closeouts as they got ready for Christmas. They sold wooden planters in large, medium and small sizes that I liked and thought about but were expensive. However, they were finally reduced and I grabbed two before I went overseas for a few weeks.
      While overseas I had time, lots of time, so I doodled in my sketch pad and designed patterns that would be used on the planters. Each side would be different and I knew exactly where I would put them ... in my patio outside of the French doors that lead into the dining room. 
     Rather than design eight different sides I pretty much designed one planter and tried to copy that design on the other. Easier said than done but unless you looked really close you might never notice. The bigger problem was that after doing the first one, you could be led astray on the other. And, I was!
I painted what would be the yellow "X" white
so it would stand out better.
     Because of the shape and the prominent "X" one had to be very creative. A turquoise "X" became a black one, a red one and finally a yellow one. In most cases, though, the design was different so I tried to use the same colors to tie it all together.
Here are two of the finished sides

     I had seen articles that showed the painter messing around with masking tape and thought pooh on that. Everything was sketched by hand and then painted by hand. If I wanted it perfect I could buy that here, especially in Palm Springs. I wanted real, hand painted art, my art.

The other two sides.
     As you can see, they turned out to be quite colorful. While it was fun to do them, to create them it took hours to do them both. The painting part took two audio books and now that I am Varathaning them, it looks like it may take another. Reading the can it asks that you let it age a week before applying another coat and since they will be placed outside I want to make sure they don't fade or age too fast, especially after all the work they took to create.
     Since they will go outside my French doors leading to the patio ... there's a breezeway that goes to a paver lined yard, I will see them every time I come home via the carport. It will definitely add some color to a rather dull area: tan stucco, a few boring pots, a collection of neutral plants. I had planned on putting a plumeria in each one but a friend suggested maybe something else. We will see.
     The other thing I might add is that don't be afraid to glue additional items on your project. Here I added wooden hearts and even some glittery pieces. A little sparkle never hurt anything and it makes the item even more yours. On the turquoise "X" I added thin but raised wooden hearts. It manages to give the piece some dimension, something paint alone sometimes cannot do. Experiment and see how it looks. For this piece the four hearts was all it took to give some body to the "X" without competing with the busy scalloped background.
The two planter boxes shown together
  Somehow, despite the differences on each of the sides, it seems to work. Probably the raised "X" on each side ties them together and there is just enough color and design elements that repeats itself despite being used in different shapes and different ways. The one thing I will say is that despite what the piece is, paint and some creativity can definitely breathe life into a tired old or boring new piece of furniture. 
     Now that I have gotten my feet wet, so to speak, I am looking for other pieces to try. At some of the donation stores here there are candidates like the sample chair at the top. Tables, chairs, chest of drawers are all possibilities. The best part is that the only limitations are your own minds!
     For inspiration check out Google, click images and then search for painted furniture. You won't believe what you will find. I noticed that had quite a few listings of things for sale complete with photos. January is a great time to get projects done, especially with the weather you might be having. Remember, despite all the snow, rain and wind you are having now, Spring and Summer will come!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Just VOTE No!

It's no secret that the United States, land of the free, has one of the worst voting records of any democracy on earth. Partly because we don't have to vote as they do in some countries and partly because we don't care. If I have heard that "they're ALL crooks" once, I've heard it a thousand times.  Since we were one of the first countries on earth to vote for our president, our leader, we designed an electoral system giving the people, in their states, the opportunity to choose their leader. While there are times "they are crooks" probably is true, like several of the corrupt governors now in jail in Illinois, I spend little time talking to such people because I feel they have no right to complain if they can't take the time to vote. As has happened all too often in the last decade, "every vote counts."Ask Al Gore!
Clinton at campaign rally.
Trump ... well, you decide.

     Years ago, now, in college I came up with an idea that would give voters, somewhat like a multiple choice test we were taking at the time, a choice. You could vote for candidate one, two or three but added as a last choice was, "None of the above." IF none of the above won or got 50+1% of the vote, none of those candidates were elected, a new election had to be held in 90 days (similar to elections in England) and none of the losing candidates could run in the re-run election. Why? No one wanted them.

    Least we forget, the 2016 election was held with two major candidates who had over a 60% DISAPPROVAL ratings on the day of the election. It was, literally, a choice between the lesser of two evils. While Clinton may have won the popular vote, she lost the electoral vote partly because she didn't even bother to go to several crucial states thinking she had them in the bag. If there is any lesson in politics, its DON'T assume anything. If you could vote for none of them, few would ever make that mistake again.
     I bring this up because the Sunday DESERT-SUN newspaper here in the Coachella Valley had on its editorial page an article about Sam Chang, a retired banker from Taipei who has, as his mission in life, begun a campaign to add "negative" vote in Taiwan, hardly a bastion of democracy. "The right to vote no," says Chang, is a fundamental human right." I couldn't agree more. 
     He has carried his message around the world but struck gold in Berkeley, CA the home of liberal rights in an already deep blue state. Chang proposes to give voters the ability to use that one vote to cast a ballot against the candidate instead. Each candidate's tally of votes would be a net - between the number of positive and negative votes. Too complicated. I say ... vote for the candidate you like or, if you don't like any of them then check "none of the above."
     While I agree that it would most likely improve voter participation, I feel that it is too cumbersome. If you don't like any of them, just vote against them all. If you like one of them, then just vote for that candidate or that proposition. Let's not beat around the bush.
     I bring this up now because given the government shutdown essentially over a wall the President wants and over 2/3's of the country doesn't want, hundreds of thousands of people are out of work (do not forgot far more than 800,000 government employees are not working because others depend on their livelihood on those that work too), maybe it's seriously time to consider how we vote.
     Many want to scrap the electoral system saying that it isn't necessary anymore. However, be careful what you ask for. The system was designed to give every state a voice in the election process. States like California, Texas and Florida have far larger populations than Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, or even a huge states with few people like Wyoming or Alaska. Thus a candidate must win not just the popular vote nationally but in each state giving that state a stake in the process. 
     Chang, though, has a point. He hopes the world will become more positive by going negative. It would give voice to many who feel they have been left out of the process. It definitely would make candidates more accountable and sift out the characters who have no right to run based on their personal histories  and hopefully give heart to a better selection of electable candidates.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Palm Springs FilmFest 2019

     I love movies. I always have. Its probably because my parents did too. That was one of the few things they could agree to do as a family. In fact, my name, Alan, came from my mother's adoration of the actor Alan Ladd. When I met the infamous Scotty Bowers last month, the pimp for the stars, he noted that Ladd had a place out here in Palm Springs. I didn't know that nor did I ask if Ladd was Gay too.
     I grew up in the golden era of film. Stars like Grace Kelley, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Esther Williams, Ethel Merman, John Wayne, Gary Cooper and so many more graced the screen every week as I grew up. I can still remember crying as the Titanic slipped below the waves in "A Night To Remember," or the screams of two college boys in one of the slash scenes in "Psycho." I couldn't go upstairs into my dark bedroom without every light on for months!
     Movies, even though we know are manmade, designed if you will by scriptwriters, cinematographers, actors, directors and editors have the power to move us and in some cases move a nation to action.
     For Christmas this year friends gave me tickets to two Chinese movies from the list of over 230 movies shown at Palm Springs 2019 FilmFest. Curious about other films that would be playing I grabbed the schedule from a booth at the Thursday Palm Springs Village Fest and looked it over. There were some interesting films so I went online and went from two movies to ten. Over a period of 11 days a movie a day would fit in. Here is what I saw from best to worst with some strange and confusing films in-between. Festivals like this are driven by critics, people I generally feel have pretty poor judgement ... you know, who died and made them king or queen? Here's my critique:

    THE GUILTY. Rarely does a film have the kind of power to hold you where you see the actor in every frame and those he is talking to are never seen. Directed by first movie ever Director Gustav Möller, its a thriller that starts sarcastically when a disgraced cop has been grounded in a 911 like call center. When an apparent abduction happens this film never, ever lets you go. Möller was there to discuss the film afterwards and few left after this exhausting film. At a crucial moment in the film when its apparent what's happened the woman next to me yelled, "No, NO" and was echoed by many others.
 This Danish film is a good contender for a nomination for the Oscars Best Foreign Film. See it, it's that powerful.
    CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME, an American film starring Melissa McCarthy is the story about the fall and disgrace of author Lee Israel, a noted biographer on hard times. A chance letter found in a book about Fanny Brice starts a new career of fake letters from the stars. McCarthy is perfect in the role, smart, sharp tongued and believable. Rarely has the fall from grace been captured so well.

  BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee's latest and I think best, tells the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American policeman hired to the Colorado Springs, CO police force. It relates how in a moment of daring he responds to an ad in the local paper looking for new recruits for the KKK. He speaks with the local leader and when a meeting is required uses a white, Jewish cop (Adam Driver) as his surrogate. The film succeeds because in 50 years not all that much has changed. The filth and venom David Duke and his fellow followers spew here has not changed much or maybe at all. Echoes of Charlottesville from the past and times that we thought were gone are not. What made the film even more interesting was Stallworth was there after the movie for Q & A and noted that he carries his KKK card to this day as a reminder.

Winogrand on the street
   GARRY WINOGRAND: ALL THINGS ARE PHOTOGRAPHABLE brought to mind this noted image maker and the reasons I didn't like his photography.
    I got my first camera at age 5. Somewhere are photos of me taking photos with an old Agfa box camera my father brought back from Germany after the war. In high school I took photo class and in fact printed many of the photos used in the yearbook I was editor of. 
    I never liked his, to me, discordant images, tilted in strange angles and views. Yet, I also realized that his photos are a time capsule of the past. He captures people and trends many younger viewers had never seen. I'm glad I saw this documentary but you won't find a book of his photos in my library.

     DEAD PIGS sounds like a strange title for a movie but this Chinese movie of greed and corruption is actually quite good. It relates the tale of a brother and sister who struggle to get ahead in modern day Shanghai, China. Having recently been there, I recognized many of the places.
   The brother borrows money to make an investment is a shady brokerage firm and loses everything. Then his and everyones pigs start dying so he can't sell them to pay his bookie. His sister, sitting in the last raining house of a planned new development, that is worth millions of yuan, won't help. The tale spins deeper and darker until near the end it all becomes clear. Pay close attention as all the clues are there only it took a day of reflection for me to realize what had happened and when.

     Now we enter the questionable:
Our hero? and his evil twin sisters
      DIAMANTINO was a Portuguese entry about a famous soccer player that was lovely eye candy with twin evil sisters and, for me, not much else. The critics may have loved this film but I and others who talked about it waiting in line for movies were as confused as me. All I got out of it was the sisters were greedy.

     ASH IS PUREST WHITE was another Chinese entry about a local thug and his girlfriends fall from grace. Using a gun to save her thug boyfriend from serious harm, she spends five years in jail (no private citizen in China is allowed to own a gun) and when she gets out, the man she saved has moved on, well, until he hasn't. None of the characters are sympathetic or likable. Interesting view of criminal justice in China.

Guns in China are a BIG no-no!
FAST COLOR, another American film, tells the story of a Gaia type character who is chased by the government to harness her powers to change the earth. It never explains how and why and echoes too many other movies and books with similar themes. It isn't nice to fool Mother Nature.

It was a very, VERY Long Day here!
  LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT may have won awards in Cannes, China and elsewhere but soon after it started the exodus began. I brought a Chinese friend who made it thorough 70 minutes of this 140 minute film, leaving just before the 3D portion began. 3D didn't make it any better. The main character, to me, wandered in search of a film. We watched and wondered the same thing. 

     I hated DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE. In fact I felt that I too had been dragged. How this Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn film had even been made is a mystery to me. The tale is about a recently released prisoner hired to take part in a gold bullion heist and two disgraced cops planning the same thing had all the senseless violence you could ever ask for. ALL of the characters were despicable and that the original criminal survives and get most of the gold and lives in the lap of luxury sends the message that crime is good, why work when you can steal? Play your cards right and you can live like me. That the actor, who portrays the character that survived, could barely speak before this evening film, set the tone. I hope it never makes it the mainstream theaters. 
     It was fun though 10 movies is a lot. A friend here saw 21, almost 2 a day. I saw two back to back and was wiped out. The overriding question though, to me, was, after talking to others that saw their fair share of films, who are these critics? How did these films get so many awards? As a close follower of Rotten Tomatoes, I've noticed an uptick of films that critics love and the audience hates, movies the audience loves is often hated by the critics. It appears that, just like current politics, there is a definite discordance from the self declared "pros" and the public.
     I feel a movie should stand on its own, that the story it has to tell should be unique. Festivals such as this at least give us a chance to see what other cultures, countries are saying. I, and many of my friends are tired of ROCKY 253, of the fourth iteration of A STAR IS BORN as good or bad as it may be. Even the movies I couldn't understand were at least born of new ideas, new thought. The worst were old themes or played to audiences that didn't need to be shown that sloth is good because they had already settled on that.
     I will say one thing though, now that I have dipped my toe into the waters, I can't wait for the next round of films!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Watching "Longmire"

As a kid growing up born just after the war in 1945, Westerns on radio and in the movies ruled the day. I can remember hearing episodes of "Gunsmoke" on my Grandmothers huge old vacuum tube radio. It sat in the dining room but it could be heard throughout the house. It was a grand old radio, 4 ft. high, that I wish I had today. It had huge vacuum tubes and I can remember going with my grandfather to buy new ones. Boy, have times changed! The Western, designed, if you will, brought new fare for a victorious America using Westerns as a metaphor for the defeat of the Germans, Italians and Japanese ... and sadly Native Americans.
Deputies Ferguson, Victoria, Sheriff Longmire and Deputy Branch
      We had one of the first TV's in our neighborhood and Saturday mornings were spent watching, serials, "The Lone Ranger," "Sky King" a cowboy who flew a plane, and during the week "Have Gun Will Travel," "Gunsmoke," Bonanza," and "Paladin," all cowboy serials that ran on TV for years.
     My friends and I all sported cowboy chaps, hats, and holstered toy pistols that fired caps. The cowboy character in TOY STORY is dressed exactly the way we dressed after school or on weekends. We all knew bad cowboys wore black hats, the good cowboys wore white. In fact my mother adored the actor Alan Ladd famous for the movie SHANE and that is where I got my name, Alan.
     Then came the 60's and 70's and space, peace and love and silly comedies ruled the airways. Westerns generally disappeared though maybe there would be a breakthrough but as a popular TV fare cowboys "bit the dust!" When STAR WARS came out in 1977 many noted that cowboy clothes had been replaced with space suits ... different garb but the same plots; good vs. evil.
     Now in the 21st Century it seems that what was old is new again. "Magnum P.I.," "Roseanne,' 'Will & Grace,""Dynasty," the list goes on and on. There is even another A STAR IS BORN!
     Ironically, a Gay movie, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, a short story by Anne Proulx may have kickstarted an interest in Westerns. BROKEBACK was one of a series of stories in her two short story books, CLOSE RANGE and BAD DIRT, that chronicled the lives of those living, working and visiting Wyoming in the late 20th century. One story followed another as you met and would meet again the lives of farmers, truck stop waitresses, Easterners trying to live a western dream and ranch hands struggling to live in a beautiful yet desolate land. Here the old West met the new and whites had to contend with the Indians they displaced.
     I spent several weeks a few summers ago literally driving around Wyoming and was struck at how big it was, how beautiful and how empty.
     It was while catching up on the Netflix series "Gracie & Frankie" that Frankie in breaking up with her new beau asked if he and the new woman he was seeing were binge watching "Longmire?" He said he had been watching it with her but was lonely as he wanted to live in Santa Fe and she wanted to stay in California. Not knowing what "Longmire" was I decided to look it up.
At the Red Pony Saloon
     All it took was one episode of "Longmire" to realize I was hooked. Based on the stories of Craig Johnson, memories of my childhood "westerns" returned, memories of good and evil where good won was now transformed into todays Wyoming I had read about and seen and it's struggling sheriff and its inhabitants with conflicts that mirrored our own as a nation in crisis.
     It starts with a grieving sheriff whose wife died a year ago, the conflict with the neighboring Indian Reservation where the white sheriff arrested the Indian Sheriff for corruption and both sides are estranged from each other. Of course they must work together but this conflict mirrors so many of the conflicts we see in local, state, and federal governments. To add to the tension one of the deputies is challenging the sheriff in an election while they both have to work together.
Acting Reservation Chief Mathias
   In "Longmire" we clearly see the conflicts between shall we say the Wyoming County of Absaroka and the Cheyanne nation next door. There are other Indian reservations as well. One source of conflict is the new Indian Casino trying to be built.
     There is no love lost between the sides. Cheyennes came from the east coast having tried to assimilate their heritage to the new European model. However, their land was too valuable to plantation owners and they were evicted by President Jackson to the west during the infamous "Trail of Tears" nearly 200 years ago. Indians angry at how the federal government has treated them for centuries with whites still hungering and wanting more. Wyoming, even today, is a mirror of old cowboy days.
    So the stage is set. Even in the hinterlands you have greed, corruption, oil drilling, gambling, drunks, rustling, PTSD, anti-government whites, and more. You meet, as Clint Eastwood did in his spaghetti Westerns, the good, the bad and the ugly.
     Sheriff Longmire is the kind of hero we all want ... wise, calm, amazingly well read, able to delegate and both sooth and accuse when the situation demands. We soon discover there is no clearcut right and wrong. The guilty often escape and it is only through Native American enforcers that the Cheyenne feel vindicated. You see the best and the worse in both sides.
Rainier Beer! The Sheriff's only beer fit to drink!
The question remains however, what is right, what is wrong. Taking a life is wrong ... is wrong unless it addresses a wrong. Or does it? Whose sense of justice is right? Is fair?
     History is written by the winners. It has been since the beginning of time. However, during the past 20 or so years, historians have been studying the records of both the winners and the losers and what they see is often different than what we were taught as children. I remember being told the Americas were nearly empty and ripe for the plucking of the Europeans. Now we realize the Americas were home to 50 - 75 million people; maybe more than all of Europe. They were decimated by diseases they had no immunity to brought by the explorers. What is now Mexico City was a huge civilized city filled with over 1 million citizens that even the Spanish explorers admitted was finer than any city in Europe.
     The same can be said for much of the world the Europeans discovered. They brought with them disease that killed millions. The Black Death of the 1300's which decimated 30 -50% of Europe with disease brought from Asia can be considered just revenge. However, no one understood the cause while entire regions were stripped of all human life.
     "Longmire" is good escapist fare but with closer inspection has been designed to inspire closer contemplation. Who is right? Who is wrong? Can both sides learn and benefit from the lessons they can teach each other? Only time will tell us the answer but I am glad that I have watched this and can consider the questions it raises. This is script writing at its best.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Remembering Christmas Creating A New Wreath

The new wreath seen by day.

This year, being a crafty soul, I decided that I wanted to make my very own Christmas door wreath. I had all kinds of things to make one so ... why not?
     I got a green foam circle from JoAnn's, sprayed it with gold paint, dragged out things I had collected this year and then added the pine cones I had collected over the years plus the weird pods one of the trees in my condo complex drops. I had some fake poinsettias, a few sprigs of red berries. With hot glue gun in hand I started to lay the pieces down.
     Once I figured out the general layout crawling around on the floor and trying not to burn myself with hot glue, I begin to reflect on the Christmas's of my life.
     My Dad was, with his family, a German immigrant who came to America in 1926. Since Opa was in his 30's when he arrived, customs of the old country die hard and the first Christmas's I remember were in Toledo, OH. I remember that you didn't decorate the tree until Christmas Eve and we used real candles for lights. Imagine that. Because I was so hyper, we didn't open gifts until Christmas morning otherwise I and nobody else slept! Real candles make an impression! We may be able to achieve the same effect today with LED candles. I will have to look into that.
     After we moved to Oregon I can remember Christmases spent in both Roseburg where my mother's parents lived, once or twice in Seattle where an uncle lived and sometime everyone would descend on our house in Portland. Before my sister was born, Roseburg was the most popular rendezvous as it was a kind of center from Seattle and Los Angeles where another uncle lived.
      Even though my mom and dad had a contentious relationship the holidays still were fun times as there were cousins, neighbors in Roseburg and lots of good things to eat. After Grandma's morning cup of coffee and a Camel cigarette, her day was often spent in the kitchen.
     In fact so many of the things we ate and drank then have gone by the wayside today. I loved fruitcake, now considered door stops, that my grandmother made. She would soak it in rum for a month before the holidays and even the kids could have a slice or two. There was always a mince meat pie, something as dead and gone as the dodo. Drinks were a warm form of eggnog called a "Tom & Jerry" that mellowed everyone after a few. We were given virgin versions but now and then would add a little of the adult stuff when no one was looking.
     For my first two Christmases in college I took the train from Payne, OK to Toledo, OH to stay with my Opa and second Oma. Again, with an aunt, uncle and cousins, I would learn about the old traditions I left behind when we moved to Oregon.
     My first Christmas in Liberia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer was spent in the bathroom as I tried to survive Malaria. In fact both Christmases were spent this way. They were memories just not ones that I wanted to repeat again.
     Before I married I usually went home to Albuquerque, NM, where my mom had moved finally not able to stand the gloom and rain of Portland after my father passed away. The first Christmas after his death I started making my own Christmas Cards, something that continued for the next 50 years. There were a few interruptions but the last two years I re-started creating my own again. I'm not sure who the card is for ... the person you are sending it to or the memories you want to keep.
The new wreath with LED lights!
     When I married a close friend of my in-laws told us to create our own rituals, our own forms of celebrating and that is what we did. We had friends and family over Christmas Eve and would open a present or two at home then hustle over to the in-laws Christmas day for presents and a day filled with food and drink.
       One by one though, our numbers shrank until, with the kids gone, only a few were left to celebrate the holidays with. Comments about setting up Christmas decorations caused deep discord and then, the ritual, if there was to be one, fell on me. 
     As I glued the pieces and poked the styrofoam with stems and dripped on hot glue each piece seemed to bring back memories, some good and others not so good. Last year I landed in Beijing on Christmas Day to visit a dear friend. It was still Christmas Eve in Palm Springs when I landed there. This year I stay home, my friend was unable to visit again so I celebrate both alone and with local friends. 
     New memories, old memories. Some bring happy thoughts remembering wonderful, kind and loving people from our past. I guess it is the memories that we cherish most. The sad or angry memories, you have to let go. They are there but you can't let them hold any power over you. Our pasts are, well, in the past!
       And so, this is my wreath created from both old and new pieces, real and artificial that together signal a new beginning and a Christmas tradition that I can call my very own.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Can You Design A Relationship?

Ever felt this way? Trump may want a wall, I don't!

One of the things I have learned moving to the desert, as a single man, is how much I didn't know. Not only was I beginning my life all over again, but I had to meet and make new friends! I started going to a group led by two psychiatric professionals called REAL RELATIONSHIP SKILLS. When the life you have "designed" has a set back, at any age I am realizing, you, well, wonder. What did I do wrong, what could I have done differently? While some things can't be changed, many others can. And ... before I continue here, let me point out that our lives are designed, be it through society, upbringing, religious beliefs, many factors guide us in the choices we make and, as many can attest, not all of our choices, our decisions, are good both for us and those around us.
     The class has become intense and we have become an intimate group, one that shares things that never leave the room, and even more, we open ourselves up, often for the first time in our lives to a problem and all help to solve it. In fact,  I found it is easier to help someone else than to help yourself.
     The teachers began the very first session with 4 Guiding Principles that maintain a relationship:
  •      Change it
  •      Accept it
  •      Leave it
  •      or, the favorite, Stay Miserable.

    The more important issue is that these principles are teachable and if we had all been taught them in high school we might be a happier and more civilized society. I am finding out that while my mother made my sister and I read Amy Vanderbilt's COMPLETE BOOK OF ETIQUETTE, then tested us, there were many skills that helped us as adults. However, here was another set of principles that was never written; how to live our lives and survive with other people, even, sometimes, ourselves.

While asking may feel
this way it doesn't 
have to be!
     Asking for change should be the first step in the breakdown of any relationship. The question is: "How does it make you feel?" I don't know about you, I was never taught that. If anything, our feelings were secondary to everyone else. In our group discussions we realized that not asking for something made us resentful and could cause explosions of anger eventually. So if something in your relationship upsets you, be it at home or work, friends or family, ask for a change.
     One of the surprising realizations we made in group was that there were many changes we wanted in our partner, co-worker, boss, even friends and family to make but (1) we often didn't know what we wanted and (2) whether we needed to make change ourselves. Definitely a point to consider.

     If you can't change it, a behavior, attitude then if the relationship is important we must learn to accept it. Relationships are considered good if it's an 80 / 20 split. No one will be everything you want and you probably don't want a clone of yourself. You have to decide whether you can live with what you can't change. And not just live with it, but accept it and move on.
      This was pretty much the way I was raised. My parents argued a lot and they set an example I never wanted to immolate. As a child, I just had to accept it. However, that became my world view and I feel stunted my emotional development.
     Accepting may sound easy but its not. Accepting is difficult and since you can't change something that irritates you, you either completely accept it or ... follow the next step which is ....

Leave it for a short time, or
leave it forever. You decide.
     To "leave it," you will find leaving a  relationship is never easy and has two different aspects. After an argument, disappointment, something as simple as disagreeing on a TV show to watch, there are two possibilities:
     Little LEAVE IT where you simply go to another room, take a walk and clear your mind of whatever upset you. Often it defuses an argument and allows both sides to reconsider.
     Big LEAVE IT means you walk out the door and have no intention of coming back, or as Taylor Swift sings, "never, ever!" This is the biggest step of all and the hardest step anyone has to make in any type of relationship. One way or another you got yourself into this relationship and now, through trial and error you feel you must leave. You have tried the other steps and according to your "how do YOU feel" you find you feel pretty crappy and find the time has come to part. Again, it is easier said than done. How many mistresses have heard their married lovers say "I am going to leave my wife" and nothing has happened in 10 years.
     Even with this hanging over their heads most people choose the final step which is ...

   The relationship has soured, but you don't want to upset the children, no one in your family has ever divorced and myriad other excuses, yet 50% of all marriages end in divorce and there are more one parent families today than married ones with both mom and dad or two same sex partners. For those that remain unhappy, why not change? Because change is hard. There is an unknown we fear whether it is real or not. I have questioned the concept of "until death due us part." Would we be happier with a contract that after a certain number of years can be renewed or the couple parts ways similar to a car lease? We know remaining together is as poisonous as parting yet I feel the steps above deserve an honest consideration. Our happiness, our "how do I feel" colors all our relationships and not to feel good about yourselves or others is a prescription for unhappiness, not just for ourselves but for all those around us. As they say, "If momma ain't happy, NOBODY happy."

     The revelation, for me and the others, has been we had never considered these four steps, at least not quite in this way. Leaving yes, but the alternatives? No! While there are many other decisions and how to handle them in our lives, the creation, the "designing" of our lives is still essentially our own or at least how we handle them. I wish I had known these principles. In class, in every discussion, we keep coming back to these four principles.
     Wouldn't it have been nice to know this before a relationship ends? The divorce is final, the partner, angered and gone, parent has died before a reconciliation could have been made?
     So, in answer to my question, we CAN design a relationship and while we can't always choose our families, we can choose our other relationships and when things go south take the time and consider these four very basic principles. As for me, I am still a work in progress but it has been a good journey and is allowing me to become the person I have always wanted to be. We can wallow in the past or move toward the future. It's a choice.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Designing Cuter Baby Togs

This image was what started it all! A Chinese child's hat!
My Father's Day present this year was being told that I would be a grandfather in late November. Of course I was elated. I too had wanted children and despite all that has happened in the past few years, this is one decision I have never regretted.
      My daughter and her husband were happy but insisted that they not be told the sex so that it would be a surprise when the baby was born. Since I just turned 73,  I was very happy because I often wondered if I would ever have a grandchild  ... be a grandfather. Of course your children never appreciate nagging about such things, as all parents know.
      As the time has approached though I became aware of the many things new parents need. My daughter had pretty much decorated the room they would use for a nursery so I wondered what I could add to it.
What child wouldn't want to wear these?
     Before my trip to China this month my friend there sent pictures of things he had found for the new baby. I was amazed! I had never seen anything like this in the U.S. I knew then that the hunt in China was on.
      Culturally China goes back, well, millenniums. The trip started this time in Shanghai but was actually a visit to the ancient homes and gardens in Suzhou and Yangzhou. The "Humble Administrators Garden" in Suzhou was built in 1509. It is a fairyland of lakes and ponds, manmade mountains gathered from local rocks and somehow put together, amazing pavilions, bridges and buildings. Thousands can wander at once, and they did, but there is still open space.
Memories of my daughter carrying
her "hippie cup" around made me stop
     Because of the one child policy started in the late 1970's, China veered from the average family of four or five to just one. As we all know, single children are doted on and China is no exception. And just like here, it is expensive to raise children. However, there were so many on the garden tours and in the complex my friend is living in, and being an expectant grandfather, I couldn't help but notice the kids and what they were wearing. Believe me when I say they have far cuter clothes than what you see here.
You poked the nose and the straw is
revealed. That it had a glass bowl
rather than plastic sold me.
             A 20 minute walk from my friends condo there was a large four-story mall, Golden Eagle 2. Like similar malls I had seen in other Chinese cities, part or all of one floor is devoted to kids things ... clothes, activities, toys, etc. So, despite my phones daily warning of "unhealthful air" I would spend an hour walking at first a different direction each day and then longer walks in directions that interested me.
     I spent four hours one day, alone, at the mall checking out the baby stores. There were many but the prices were very high, even for China. I felt $100 for a cute outfit that might be worn a few times before becoming too small was a bit much so passed ... until I happened on a store that sold the nitty gritty of baby things, diapers, cups, pins, all the essentials. I saw this chicken tippie cup and had to buy it. The outside is soft to the touch and the wings make it easy to hold or carry around. That the inside had a glass container to hold the milk, juice or whatever sold me. There is still too much we don't know about plastics and juices.
Winter is coming in North Carolina
     However, it was the day I got lost that I found another baby store that had many of the same things I had looked at at the mall and the prices were considerably less. As I wandered through I found many things I liked but as the wonderful sales girls tried the language barrier was too great. I promised I would be back with my friend. I told him about my discovery that night and so the next day after work we wandered over.
The winter bear was
the selling touch!
     They wanted to know the sex of the baby and I explained I didn't know so I felt anything blue or pink was out. We looked and looked and I must admit my friend Qiang was better at this than me. He wisely noted that yellow, orange or green was neutral and since we didn't know sex or size, start with something simple that will be used now or shortly after birth. So I got this cute jumper, several hats and a nightshirt, something they will go through about three a day from past experience.
     It was great fun and the girls were all happy. The customers, all with kids that came in, settled in to watch the show!
     Graphics and particularly cartoon graphics are everywhere in China. We may smirk at Hello Kitty but everyone, adults as well as kids wear cartoon graphics there. Logos, posters, even political slogans will often sport some kind of what we would consider a kiddie cartoon. Their Chinese characters are so beautiful that artists spend an entire lifetime honing their skills. This trip was visiting both one of the largest cities in the world and smaller, often ancient cities that have been lived in since before 700 B.C. Graphics are seen and worm everywhere.
You have to admit, the "ears" make the hat!!!
     One of the things I found so intriguing was that even the simplest of things had a unique twist. Looking at baby hats I couldn't resist this one with tiny ears sewn on top. I had seen many children with some variation and couldn't resist.
     Once I know the sex and size of my grandchild, I WILL be back. These items are now on their way to the soon to be parents. And truth be told, I can't wait to see photos of the baby all decked out in these wonderfully imaginary baby clothes. 
     Clothing like art or even a painting is just another form of design. Some places seem to do it better than others.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! 

Be sure to check my ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!