Monday, July 29, 2013

To Norway and Beyond!

It's been a week now in Norway, a place I'd never traveled to before. We flew into Oslo to meet and travel with Danish friends. Together we trained our way from Oslo to Bergen to spend a night there before we left the next day via first a fast boat then a smaller slower one heading to the largest glacier left in Europe.

One of the hardest things to get used to is telling time. It never really gets dark now and midnight is like around late twilight at home. Good thing the curtains are thick. The sun, I swear, greets you at about 4 am.

Norway is horrendously expensive compared to California but you KNOW it's expensive when the Danes complain too! My friend says oil changed everything. Probably. Everyone looks well fed, they have lovely homes and drive nice cars. Gone, at least till the oil runs dry, are those famously frugal Norwegians that settled the upper great plains. A lot came too.  Over 800,000!

The weather until Sunday was straight out of the California play book. One day was 90°! Luckily I checked the weather the day before we left, added short sleeve shirts and a pair of shorts. To see the fjords in shimmering sunlight was breathtaking. To see two parts of the huge glacier, the blue ice creeping down the hillside left you stunned. We were told it rained everyday the week before.

I decided since I wouldn't have time to paint I would photograph. I wanted to record scenes that were breathtaking and rarely painted. The view from our 1894 hotel in Myrdal was stunning. Perched on a hill we could see houses, the fjord and the glaciers beyond. Don't you think it might rival Provence or the Italian coast? I definitely do.

Myrdal is known as book town. Sellers have over 300,000 books for sale. To narrow my Rosemaling search (found out maling means painting in Norse) we asked tourist information and they pointed us to the stores with the most used craft books. Sure enough I found a spiral bound beauty in Norwegian AND English. Can't wait to try it.

I hoped to see more Rosemaling but have noticed the Norwegians are very proud of their past and things are often decorated. The chairs on a hotel balcony, a fireplace, a wall. So the quest continues! Today at a 1250 AD stave church we saw some in the church with more examples in the museum and modern pieces for sale in the gift shop. Items were not cheap selling for hundreds of dollars. I need to hone my skills!

Tomorrow we board a boat in Skein going up and down the locks. Then the ferry to Skagen where our Danish adventure begins.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Let's Hear It For The Red White & Blue!

There is a reason why some color combinations are near and dear to us. This really showed itself to me in a crafting project I recently completed. I had outlined in pencil a basic idea of what I wanted to do, as  many of you know, I am not shy about using color. Yet, this time I wanted something different.

Sitting at a dinner at church waiting for a speaker to talk I glanced around the room and spotted an American flag up on the stage. In the relatively dim light, there was something rich and majestic in it. Trimmed with gold, the deep blue, with the red almost a burgundy with white stars and stripes, the colors looked perfect. I knew what colors I would use.
Americana Patchwork Birdhouse by KrugsStudio

If you don't think painting those diamonds is tough, think again. While I only had to contend with three colors, Payne's Grey, Tuscan Red and Buttermilk I have to be sure to get a fairly equal number of each color on a side and roof. Of course there was also the cupola.

When the colors were in place it was well, kinda drab. I knew that it would be antiqued but somehow it needed something else. Even the small wooden heart with the golden heart with wings on top helped. So, from my experience with crazy quilts, I played with the blue diamonds coming up with about four different small patterns. I liked those. They gave the entire birdhouse some interest.  Then, I added red strips to the buttermilk. That looked pretty nifty as well so I came up with a few variations for those diamonds as well.

Its a process here. You start with one idea, get influenced by another and before you know it you have altered course. But it was a course I liked. I decided, in the spirit of crazy quilts to leave the red squares alone. I made sure there were reds used in the blue and cream diamonds but felt that was the perfect balance.

Still something was missing. I edged the roof edges with gold and yet, it needed something, something to really make it pop! Then I found some round balls with holes that were made for beading. Gluing them to the corners and painting them gold made all the difference in the world. I went from a ho-hum birdhouse with some flashy detailing to a stand by your bird kind of birdhouse that was upright and confident. Just that little bit of change made all the difference in the world.

There is a reason certain combinations remain popular. They arouse certain feelings, they seem to always be in style and they are easy to decorate with. Be adventurous, try something thats out of the box. A patriotic birdhouse? Why not? Many birdhouse will never see a drop of rain, remaining a fun, collectible item that is used to decorate homes year round. At least, that is my take on the subject. I have been to many homes that use a birdhouse as an accent. The antiquing made it an instant classic but then who wants to wait around all those uses for the patina to appear. It took me about an hour!

This will be my last blog for a few weeks as I am leaving for Norway today. I will try to relate my adventures from my iPad but I can't seem to get photos from my iPad library to upload to my blog. I firmly believe photos make ALL the difference in the world! This is my first trip to Norway and I can't wait. Hopefully I will get my fill of Rosemaling. We certainly are going to spend a little time in the regions that are well known for this.

Enjoy your summer! I am hoping in getting a years worth of ideas!

Learning To Paint Back To Front

One of the hardest things for me to learn when I started out painting oils was that you ALWAYS painted from dark to light. As any watercolor artist will tell you, you layer, often many times, to get dark darks so you paint from light to dark. That was when I realized why I always created mud with oils!

In the same token, I am now learning through guidance that you should always paint from back to front with acrylics. I should say I am learning that from one mentor. For me, that seems to work best.

Audobon Way - the photo
 Here is the perfect case in point. While on an outing with a plein air group, I spotted this gate walking around trying to get a different take on a local restaurant / store up in the hills of Sierra Madre, CA. I snapped a photo and moved on.
Needless to say the store turned out poorly and finally I threw that painting away. However, I had also printed this shot and kept looking at it but just felt I didn't have the skills to work on it. In fact, I didn't.

While it may not seem difficult on closer inspection there is a great deal going on here. Behind the gate to the left is a house, past that is some kind of shed and a stone path leads off to the right. For some reason It caught my attention and I knew that I wanted to paint it but somehow just couldn't.

Audobon Way - the painting

When I started getting more involved with acrylics I realized that many of the issues of light and dark could be resolved. If you didn't like a tone or the shading was too light or dark, you could go over it again in a few minutes. I was all set to go!

What I didn't really plan for and my mentor has told me over and over again was while you weren't restricted with the concept of dark to light, you could be restricted if you didn't paint back to front. That is a whole new game.

As I learned in my classes in Las Vegas, each artist has their own way. Reading about the lives of famous artists and the critiques of their work, it appears every artist had his or her "own" way. Of course, that is what makes us unique. You develop a style that flows through much of your work and sets you apart from any other artist. My tendency is to hop back and forth and in retrospect I realize I create far more work for myself.

This time I started with the sky then the background trees using white chaulk outlines on a deep black green canvas. It was a rather startling sight to say the least. The aqua house on the left was next so I could leave the dark space behind the palms then put in the trees that partially obscure the house. Palms were next, then the wall and path and stones. I took liberties with the wall. The red seemed a much nicer counterpoint to all the greens and works well, I think. Next came the raw wooden gate. This has many layers of color, some were done with the earlier layer still wet so they could blend.

My painting is warmer than the original but I felt it should be. The photo was taken early in a winter's morning and I remember there being more warmth of color than the photo showed. But you know, ultimately, as artists we can paint what we want.

The painting, while quite small at 9" x 12" is for me a lovely study. The gate is very inviting and you get a sense of whimsy and fun of the inhabitants beyond. You really "want" to go through that gate. If you do, then I have done my job!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Returning To QuarkXpress 9.5

Awhile back I wrote about my frustration with Adobe's InDesign, a desktop publishing program after years of using QuarkXpress, the leader until they stumbled in their biggest market, the Mac graphic design market when it took them three tries to be compatible with the new Apple OS.

For many years you had to run two operating systems on a Mac, OS 9.2 and OS 10.0 when using Quark. The Mac OS got faster and while Adobe made the change Quark seemed to take forever. So you used PhotoShop or Illustrator and even Word using say Mac OS10.2 and you ran 9.2 with Quark. It was not a pretty picture. Stung by the loss of leadership from their clunky PageMaker to Quark, Adobe came out with InDesign that was also a dog for a few iterations but seized the moment when Quark seemed to drag its feet.
The Quark Interface

However, now that I have been using Quark again, the frustration level was just too high with InDesign 5.5, I am happy to say that while the documentation is very light, many of the old commands still work and I have learned a few new ones along the way. I should point out that there is documentation and lots of video modules but I decided to wait as QXP 10.0 is due out any time now and so, I will watch those.

The other interesting thing is that Quark came right out and told every user and past users as well, that if they buy Quark now or in the future THEY will own the software.  They will not have to lease it or have to do anything in the cloud. It is theirs, pure and simple. Each license is good for two computers, in my case the iMac and laptop. That seems fair enough. Adobe has made headlines with its new policy of leasing the program to you on a monthly or yearly basis. You will NEVER own a version of it again. Not only that, you better have a fast wi-fi connection because you will ALWAYS BE WORKING in the cloud. The argument is that you will always have the newest version and will never have to download updates again. Microsoft is trying this. Ask them how popular that has been.

I don't know about you but that idea of not only NOT owning what I am paying for but having to do everything in the cloud is scary. Can you imagine, and I live not more than two miles away from Southern California Edison's HQ and we have outages all the time, you are in the final moments of a crucial product launch and suddenly your screen goes dark? Or the wi-fi dies for some reason? Can you? Before you upgrade to Adobe's new cloud, give that a thought.

I create a newsletter for my art teacher and I finally switched that over to Quark. It took about half the time I expected and while things have changed it didn't take long to understand what was going on. If you were ever a user, keep those old manuals. They seem to still work. Every command I could pull from this rusty old brain or research from my old 7.5 books worked. How gratifying. If nothing else, they have great support now and you do all your work on your own computer. You pay for it once and you're done.

Another wonderful feature, I did it once, was with Quark you can do a layout and export it as HTML. True, you had to open and link things with Dreamweaver (surely the seven stages of hell) but the design work could be done in an old friend. The new version allows for eBook design and even things for iPads and such. You may be able to do all the linking there as well.

Check them out online. I am finally a happy (desktop publishing) camper!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Framing It!

When you consider the amount of time we spend painting something I have to admit, at least in my case, how little time we spend getting the right frame for that very same painting. Its not that any old thing will do, it won't, but possibly we are so close to an item that, well, we don't see the forest for the trees.
Chinese Dreamscape framed

For me, this is probably the best painting I have ever done. I hope there will be more and even better ones in the future but for now, I was able to capture a kind of depth and exciting foreground as never before. For several weeks now it has sat on an easel in the garage so I can see it whenever I go out the back door.

The time had come. I would hang it in my bathroom and it needed a frame.

When my son and I repainted the bathroom picking a color was hard because of the deep 1950's burgundy tile trim. It makes other colors look bad. My son said lets try green, and a strange green it was. I wasn't convinced yet somehow it worked and its really the perfect color for many paintings. A creamy white was used on the cabinets, ceiling and trim. The hunt was on.

I am very fortunate to have a "cost" effective frame shop not even a mile away and they are always having a sale. When I went in there were several frames that would fit the painting for only $20. But they were gold and I was sick of gold or silver so started looking at dark wood frames with maybe a flash of gold. The Asian owner, probably about my age, disappeared as I poked around. He returned with something behind his back. "I think I have the frame for you. It's only $20 so you decide," he said.

I hate ornate frames. They are fine at the Met, the Louvre or the LA County Museum of Art but not in my home. He put the painting inside the frame and realized he was right. I was stunned. The frame just disappeared and the painting shimmered. "OK," I said. "You are right." And, he was.

He scensed in a heartbeat what I could not. I've always said that if you want to bring out a color use another color to mask what you don't want to see and to bring out the one(s) you do. By using a white frame the greens, blues and oranges loom up around the whites and creams creating the perfect, at least in my mind, dreamscape.

The next time you frame your art, listen carefully to someone else. They just might see what you cannot.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Our Loss Of Humanity(ies)

Two of the greatest people in the late 20th Century, persons who forever changed the way we live today were college dropouts. I guess the question has to be, does less college make them more humane?

Steve Jobs, surely one of the greatest innovators of the 20th Century (whom the Chinese honored more than the country he was born in) and easily on par with the great Albert Einstein, never finished more than a semester of college. Bill Gates, who created one of the greatest companies in history and become one of the richest men in the world never graduated from Harvard. Yet, and maybe because of their rivalry, they changed the way the world works.
Steve Jobs

While many educators, pundits and critics are overly critical of what they did, in some ways they tried to correct the very illnesses they are blamed for. In trying to connect all of us in a variety of ways, what they achieved is seen by many as a degrading of society. I remember hearing Doris Kerns Goodwin speak, who I guess is my favorite historian (if you've never read TEAM OF RIVALS you should), bemoan the fact that no one writes letters anymore. Historians will not know what they were thinking. It was only later and maybe because of the revelations of Google and the NSA, I realized that every email, text message you write is in some data storage bank somewhere, forever. In fact, it could be a treasure trove far greater than anything we could ever imagine. ALL of the dirty little secrets could emerge, or as Snowden has shown, big ones as well.
Bill Gates

However, what we have lost is perspective. I don't know about you but when someone talks about something I don't know about, I grab my iPhone, much to my wife's dismay, and look it up. I want to know. How many times have I heard someone make a statement that is well, just not right? A lot. The reason? Because we just don't know. There are thoughts and attitudes that people have, but often they are wrong. We were never taught. If there is any cry that is truer than anything else ever said it was Georges Santana's statement that "Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it." Yes. And we are. Trust me.

An article in the paper recently by Tim Rutten called "Loss of Humanities Shrinks Our Humanity" has been percolating in my mind for awhile. My wife, a 4th grade teacher also complains about the fact the kids are drilled and killed all for the tests they have to take. What they are expected to do is literally regurgitate what they have been taught in math and language. Gone are the arts, music, social studies, even gym as they go through each day, day after day learning facts like robots. What education has failed to realize is that any fact, ANY fact is but a fingertip away. We kill any creativity before it has a chance to blossom.

There is hope. The new common core, something that was di rigor in the 1970's and what made America great is back. Kicking and screaming, schools across America are having to teach ideas, thoughts, connections. It is about letting kids make the kinds of connections that Jobs and Gates made. The connections that made America great.

I would spend hours as a kid reading Colliers Encyclopedia after my parents were conned into buying a set. I bet I was one of the few who read it. I also used it a lot as well. My son at about the age of 5 learned to read from his time in the "time out" corner (he was there a lot) from the Encyclopedia Britannia my in-laws had given us. It was chase him around the house with a wooden spoon or point a finger to the "corner."

It was my reading of David Goldfield's book AMERICA AFLAME that made me realize that for all the reading and education I had, I was not prepared to look at my country from the 1820's to 1876. Each page was a revelation. What was even harder to accept was that the United States was going through many of the very same battles today. True, there is no slavery per se, but the social and monetary issues are the same. I can remember visiting the Ellis Island Museum and realizing, I was stunned in fact, that the room devoted to the immigration of the Italians, well over 22 million from about 1910 to 1920 caused a tremendous lowering of allowable immigrants. Yet if you substituted Mexican or Latino for Italian the words were the same! The 1921 law dropped the quota to 750,000 a year. You had to be healthy or you were put back on the boat. My Opa immigrated from Saxony in 1925 and that very year the quota went from 750,000 to 250,000. In 1926 my Oma, my father and aunt arrived at Ellis Island. I was truly stunned. How did they do it? I even have a photo of them on the boat.

So, the battles we see today over immigration are not new. The Middle East? One historian said the main reason we became the United States of American was to defeat the Barbary Pirates. The first attempt at government couldn't do it, but a united United States could, and did. The irony was that the Pirates went on to Saudi Arabia.

So, it isn't a fact that we don't have the information, we don't know because we were never taught. We were never challenged to consider what happened and why. Until we do, change will never come. That is our loss.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An Idea Is Born?

An artist is always looking for a new idea. If not a new idea, at least new to them. A case in point was the other day, when I was decorating some bird feeders I found on sale at Michael's, I thought as I painted away, I wonder if I could make these into a kit? It was a relatively simple item, a bird feeder but ripe with possibilities.

I took a very basic (and very inexpensive) bird feeder and with some imagination painted a trees branches, leaves of different colors, added some "fruit," put in a few nails to make sure it would hold together when used outdoors and voila, it was done. Obviously not that fast but those were the basic steps. Several good coats of Varathane and we are good to go!

It made me wonder, what if? What if I took photos of each step, created a blow by blow summary and with the raw item packaged it all together and then sold it as a kit? All one would have to do it get the paints I listed or use what they had that would be close enough. I learned long ago, that it is rare that any project such is this is ever the same. What you create, even with the best instructor, is your own unique piece of art. It may have a semblance of the original but it is still your very own.

When you think of it, there were many ways one could have gone with the feeder at the right. While I enjoy playing with colors, there are many who like to create items such as this, but want someone to show or tell them what to do. I rarely like to do this and in fact am the only student at my mentor's who is always creating their own items. Everyone else seems content to go where someone else has gone before! When I do, I feel they have or I hope they have something,  to teach me.

I have been stunned at the return AND popularity of "paint-by-numbers" paintings of late. They are everywhere. Online, in crafter catalogs and at the crafting stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby. People want to create but don't feel confident to create on their own,

After all, isn't that what paint guilds and a variety of crafting shows are all about? Someone has painted or created something and for a price is willing to show you how they did it. If you go to the convention show, the aisles are filled with artists selling their kits. So, I thought why not? Only, I would sell the whole thing, instruction packet and the item to be used. Its an idea that, for me, IS new!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Gicle`e or Not Gicle`e, THAT Is The Question

As I noted in my last posting, my wife and I went to the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach, CA. After seeing the Sawdust Festival we wandered over to the Art-A-Fair. After lunch we decided to wander on into town and see more of the galleries. I guess two festivals wasn't enough for me.

The first gallery we stopped at had a special exhibition of Dr. Seuss art, something that I had never seen before. In retrospect I should have known that someone had to illustrate his books and it was him! It turns out that Mr. Geisel, like Thomas Kincade, never, ever sold his original works of art. He left that to his family to distribute after he was gone. It turns out that he illustrated his books but he also painted for himself. Most of those paintings were never seen until after he died.

It turns out that you still can't buy the originals ... any of them. What you purchase, and some have a price tag in excess of $20,000 each, is a giclee, or for those not in the know, a copy of the original often printed on canvas. Two new prints are released each year.

Once a photo of the original is made, the resulting giclee can be any size. I don't know about you, but that seems rather expensive for a copy don't you think? Of course you are assured the money goes into a charity that supports this or that and that each one has a limited number of copies (500 seems to be a popular number). Thats a lot of money for a copy.

Art by Thomas Kincade
I guess that Thomas Kincade, "The painter of Light" paved the way for famous artists to start using giclee's. He never sold any of his art either instead creating giclee's, adding a stroke or three of paint and signing them. At a glance, many would never guess it wasn't an original. It was on canvas, there was texture and of course the paintings were signed by the artist. What more could you want? Kincade turned the art world upside down with a marketing strategy that was the envy of every artist then and probably now as well. At one time I believe his net worth was in excess of $200 million. He found a way to take one image and make millions selling copies of it a giclee at a time.

To be honest, at first I couldn't tell the difference  on the Seuss artwork until I looked at the sides and realized no artist ever has edges that neat and tidy. I don't care what you call it, its a copy, We looked at the other things in the gallery and moved on.

However, the next gallery and the ones after that seemed to have more giclee's than originals. I was stunned. The prices were well, outrageous for a copy of all things.

I got into a discussion at one gallery and mentioned that I was surprised to see so many "copies." She corrected me and said giclee. She went on to say that it was an affordable way for people to own art by famous artists. I guess the paintings sold at the corner gas station for $49 don't qualify.

 She explained that Galleries usually had 75% originals and 25% giclees. They may in stock but not on the floor. I noted that $20,000 for a copy wasn't cheap. I had seen the inkjet printers that can be used and other than starting the machine and removing the print at the end, not much needed to be done to make one. It costs between $50 and $150 to print depending on the size and material used. All the work was already done at a work station. Once mastered, it can print literally an unlimited number of prints. The 21st century digital file is the equivalent of Rembrant's etchings. They have been used again and again over the centuries too!

At the prices I saw, painters have gotten a highly elevated view of themselves over the years driven, I think, by the limited success of the few. And galleries, which take about 50% of every sale for "overhead" have become, like lawyers, the equivalent of the madam selling her wares in a lovely mansion. However, other than manage the house finances, she isn't the one doing the work.

I still say that if you see something you like get it. However, I think that I would hold out for the original like Peggy Guggenheim and not some giclee. I don't think a Jackson Pollock, any more than a Thomas Kincade, would look so great as a copy!

Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival & Art-A-Fair

After a blistering heat wave, and hopefully past the worst of the fireworks that drive our dog crazy, we ventured south Friday, the day after the 4th of July to the Sawdust Festival and Laguna Beach, CA.

Laguna Beach has been a surfer and artist hangout since the days the Spanish and white settlers started coming here. I have heard that many artists compare the light to that of France and to be sure, there is something a bit different with light here than further up or down the coast. California Impressionism got its start here and while once a wonderful sleepy beach town it draws hordes today.

Feeling we had nursed the dog enough, we headed out on what turned out to be a beautiful day and made good time despite this being a 4-day weekend. They have a relatively cheap parking lot above the art fairs and town with a free shuttle. You just hop on and go to the next stop. It is worth every penny!

The Sawdust Festival has a lottery for 200 spaces and the artists are drawn from around the area. Considering the number of galleries in town, I would imagine there are far more than 200 artists in the area. I believe this is the oldest of the three shows (there is also a gallery in front of the Pageant of the Masters plus the Art-A-Fair) as this is the 47th year of the festival.

I hadn't been in about 10 years and was surprised to find a lot less sawdust and fairly substantial spaces. More than a few cut around the native trees and did a good job of giving you the gallery experience. There were far fewer crafts than in years past and in fact it appeared to have settled in about four categories: painting, photography, jewelry and pottery-glass-wood with more emphasis on pottery and glass.

Its hard to criticize because what I like is certainly or not necessarily what you may like but there was nothing that reached out and grabbed me. I was surprised that many of the booths didn't have the artist present. I'm sure its an artistic drag as the show is open 7 days a week for about two months. However, there are far more people there than you would ever get in any gallery so I think it would behoove the artist to be there. Some were actually working and were chatty. In fact I learned a few tricks! People love watching an artist at work.  Others, however, that were there ignored the crowds and one was reading Orwell's 1984, catching up on the recent NSA revelations I guess. He seemed unaware that it was written about a time 437 years in the future or that potential clients were literally walking by. So much for connecting with the artist.

Art-A Fair, just down the road from the Sawdust festival, is a more egalitarian affair. Artists are invited to submit art to be judged and about 125 are chosen to show from around the world. In my mind this had better art probably because it drew from a much wider area. However, it too seemed to have fewer crafts and concentrated on painting and photography. If there is any complaint, and it is for both, is that the way the spaces are set up is, well, strange. Everything is at a diagonal and it was easy to repeat an area and just as easy to miss areas. It seems that there has to be a better way to guide us through so that we see all the artists. In fact, if you go, make the circuit twice because it is that easy to get lost.

The one good thing with both shows however, is that you did see the actual original art. None of these giclee's that our buddy Thomas Kincaid used to make a killing from one painting by selling hundreds if not thousands of prints from that original. That was not the story in town, but that's another blog.

If you live in this area or are going to visit, the show is a must see (well maybe every few years). The town is great fun and has lots of shops. The arts and crafts are fairly priced and people were buying. However, since I can't even begin to hang all of my paintings, I went to look, get ideas and chat, not to buy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Amazon Doesn't Always Have It Right!

If you are reading this, I would bet that 99% of you have at some time purchased something from Amazon. We all started when Crown Books stumbled and fell due to a family feud and dial-up moved to the unheard of speeds of 56 kbs. Ah, those were heady days.

We all laughed at the thought of buying books online but then realized after browsing at the likes of Walden Books, or Borders or even Crown Books, Amazon had a better deal. However, that better deal was ultimately the death knell of the bookstore as we knew it. We just didn't know it then. Few book stores remain and to be frank, nothing beats holding a book in your hand as you peruse its pages. No Kindle or iPad equals that experience.

As exciting as Amazon was (to our pocketbooks) they nearly went under when it was realized that not to charge for shipping would eat into their profits. As any online seller knows, you can't afford to eat shipping. It takes a big chunk out of the bottom line.

Then Amazon moved into movies and CD's, big cash cows until Apple brought out the iPod and Napster gave us free file swapping. Before we knew it, they were not only offering everything you could buy in a brick and mortar store, even food now, but were helping others sell their items too. However, it appears that not all of their resellers follow the same rules.

My daughter sent me new speakers for my computer as a gift. The first set never arrived because after a week or two, Amazon got around to telling her they were no longer available. When the second set arrived I marched out to connect them to my iMac. Opening one box to find another I noticed there was no packing slip. Brushing that aside, I opened the second box and as I was getting all the cords together noticed that the connector to the computer had a headphone type green plug. I knew instantly it wouldn't work. And it didn't. Not on the iMac or my laptop. They were clearly for PC computers.

Going online I read one sad comment after another from Mac users and that there seemed to be no Altec-Lansing driver for Mac's. I told my daughter and she said to send them back and pick another.

After more than 30 minutes today, I am unable to return these speakers. Obviously, whoever designed the software seemed unaware that someone would return a gift or that the gift would have no packing slip. Of course there is no phone number so there is no way to even get help from all the numbers, three different tags in fact, plastered on the outside of the box. Not one is an order number.

Our modern society is frustrating. A good part of that frustration is the way companies design how we are to interact with them. Endless times punching numbers trying to get customer service meanwhile being told, "Your call is important to us," or that line I know is a crock, "We are experiencing heavier than normal call volume today. Why don't you call back later." I got that one even at 3 am. If more than one person calls and you have only one person answering, and yes I got one customer service rep to admit he was the only one, you know that while they really want to sell us something, you better not want to return it!

And, I can't return it. I had to send an email to my daughter to see if she has an order number. Otherwise I guess it will sit here unused and unusable in a house that is all Apple.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Step Back To Step Forward?

I missed my first chance to teach two art classes to my peers because of a sudden and inexplicable illness. A range of emotions flooded through me when I realized I wasn't going to be able to go but I went ahead and applied for next year. One of the classes was accepted. You can bet I am doing everything I can to protect my back.

Luckily I didn't have a class scheduled to teach my private school kids. Trying to teach K - 3rd graders iPhoto and Microsoft Word in an after school program would have pushed me over the edge. An hour with the class once a week made me appreciate on a new level what my wife did all day, all week for nine months of the year.

The school was undergoing new construction so the spring after-school program was pretty limited. Things are back together and when asked if I would like to teach again I said yes, but I would rather teach a craft program. Not art or just art but a multitude of things, all different for the kids to try.

I had discovered computer lesson limits were about 20 - 30 minutes tops. The rest of the hour was filled with games, puzzles, art - whatever would keep them busy and out of mischief. It was this experience that made me realize that kids enjoy creating and I had all kinds of ideas and projects that any child could do. I wanted to give it a try.

Strange as it might seem, I think that this experience, working with children teaching something I enjoy doing will prepare me for teaching next year in Las Vegas. As a teacher in West Africa during my Peace Corps years, I taught the 5th grade my first year, 7th & 8th graders my second year. I learned so much, more than years in school and college! Not only did you have to teach it, you had to know about 4 or 5 ways to teach it because each of us learns in different ways. My first year was rough. With only about 12 students, we taught only in English, the national language to kids from about five or six tribes and their languages were often different. English was the common tongue. Sort of.

Yet in the teaching of these students, I learned so much. They gave me much more than I gave them. I learned to teach. My 8th graders went on to high school and everyone skipped one year and several tested at the junior level, a true advantage in that cash strapped country.

So, the adventure begins in September if I get enough students. I am excited in fact! I know that the lessons I learn here will help me to teach my students next year! Wish me luck.