Archive for October 2008
Halloween used to be my favorite holiday. But over the years my once-elaborate costumes, planned weeks or months before All Hallows Eve, have increasingly turned into slapdash efforts. Last year I even stooped so low as to wear a purchased costume—and a chintzy one at that. My husband, the dutiful sweetheart that he is, ran out to the costume store when he heard the dismay in my voice about the prospect of going out undressed for the occasion (I was out of town on a business trip at the time). He called me from the chaotic shop:
A nun and a priest?
Superman and Superwoman?
You must be joking.
Ketchup and mustard . . . ?
Umm . . . alright.
And so goes the story of how I went as “MustARRd” to last year’s Halloween party (the pirate-y “arrr” accent deriving from the eye patch I threw on as a last-ditch effort to customize the outfit and spice things up a bit).
And this year? This year we gave up completely. I bought a 7 lb. bag of candy for trick-or-treaters, which went slowly at first; it went more quickly when my husband started giving children 4 treats each as the hour approached 8. I tried desperately to think of one of those pun costumes that’s easy to pull together at the last minute. But not even my desperation could make me resort to a “Freudian slip” disguise. And so we headed out to a bar for a friend’s birthday night out . . . in jeans, t-shirts, and jackets. Scary, I know.
Lesson learned: Next year, commence costume-making (not just costume-scheming) in August.
Books? Lard? Knitting supplies? Spam? Honey? The history of care packages includes items tasty and strange. A 1962 CARE package in the collections of the National Museum of American History contained “macaroni, cornmeal, Carnation instant chocolate flavored drink mix, and nonfat dried milk.” This particular parcel was distributed by CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) but “care package” has come to mean, more generally, a package sent for relief or comfort. I received several such packages during my stint as an undergrad. My mom’s chewy, chocolate-y brownies (individually wrapped!) made me a hit in the dorms and powered us through many all-night-paper-writing sessions.
Choosing items to include in a care package for my husband’s brother, a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, was easy. Spam? Nope. Lard? Nah. My brother-in-law has been serving in Iraq since late summer; he was deployed just a few weeks after his wedding. His new, ever-thoughtful wife made life simple for his friends and family by emailing us a “most wanted” list of supplies along with step-by-step directions on how to make sure the package arrives in the right place.
Today’s package includes all the comforts of home: cough drops, nuts, lip balm, ibuprofen, granola bars, magazines, Yahtzee. Okay that last one wasn’t on the list—but who doesn’t love Yahtzee?!? That’s just un-American. (Actually, Hasbro claims the game was invented by Canadians. But I digress.) The content list is pretty mundane. But we’re hoping it’s the card we slipped in that will mean the most. It includes our thoughts and wishes for him: that he’s safe, that he knows we love him and miss him, that he comes home well (and soon!).
The conflict in Iraq is a contentious issue for many and a difficult situation for all involved. For me, this care package is about family and the importance of showing support and concern to those we love with our words and our actions. If you’re interested in connecting to the men and women overseas—who are far away from their hometowns, their loved ones, their favorite dice games (I couldn’t help it)—you should, regardless of your views on the war. There are several organizations (e.g., Operation USO Care Package and Treats for Troops Foster-A-Soldier Program) that make sending a care package easy.
Lesson learned: It’s not the thought that counts, it’s the Yahtzee. Or, rather: Don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you care.
I need your help to fulfill a birthday wish. Before I can tell you what I want, however, I have to give you a little background.
If you’ve ever met my husband, you know that he is an artist at heart. He recently began a position as an electrician at a major art museum and I’m thrilled to see how happy he is in the new job. He is excited to go to work in the morning (imagine that!?), to go to a place where he is surrounded by artworks that provoke him to think in new ways or see things in a new light. One of the best things about his new job, in my humble opinion, is that it has made him reconnect with the artist within himself. He’s been sketching up a storm and scheming new art projects at a level and frequency that I haven’t seen from him in years. He’s a wonderfully creative man and I feel that my life—and the world, in general—is fuller because of the crazy and beautiful things he dreams up.
This artist husband is currently sitting on the couch next to me, knitting a scarf (yes, he can knit too . . .), while I am browsing a website I recently heard about, DonorsChoose.org. If you haven’t heard of it, let me just tell you that what they’re doing is so simple, and yet so effective, you’ll wonder why you haven’t thought of the idea already. Their mission is to address the “scarcity and inequitable distribution of learning materials and experiences in our public schools.” As of this week in 2008, donors like you and I have funded $146,255 worth of resources for D.C. students in need and nearly $25M has been given to schools across all 50 states. It isn’t the amount of money that is amazing to me, but the way they’re going about raising it.
The DonorsChoose.org website provides a way for individual teachers to submit project proposals. They request materials or experiences their students need in order to learn. These ideas become classroom realities when concerned individuals (me! you!) choose projects to fund. What gets me really excited, and what really makes this organization unique, is how they’re using the Web to connect people. Individuals—public school teachers, their students, and people like you and I—are touching one another’s lives in ways that might never happen otherwise.
Now, what does my husband have to do with DonorsChoose.org? Well, when I learned about the site, and was inspired to find a project to sponsor, I noticed that I could sort teacher proposals by subject: music, literacy, sports, history, science . . . and art. I came across a project requested by “Ms. M,” a high school science teacher at a charter school in D.C. Her project reminded me about how critical art education can be to students, about how enriching it can be to have art in one’s life. She works in a school with students from some of the poorest parts of the city. They are often the first in their family to attend college.
In the proposal, Ms. M writes:
While my school has passionate teachers, dedicated administration, and some very talented students, we lack a few basics. For example, instead of hiring dedicated art, music, and dance teachers, regular classroom teachers volunteer to teach those classes.”
This science teacher has volunteered to teach art to high school students craving a creative outlet (even though some of them start out with an “I hate art” attitude). And what is the budget for supplies that this enthusiastic educator has been given? $2.50 per student. Now, many of you reading this blog are either artists yourselves or have loved ones involved in art-making. You know what you can get for $2.50. And you know it isn’t a lot.
Ms. M describes what the students really need and the supplies that are currently outside of her budget:
I would love for each of my students to have their own art kit, complete with sketchpad, pencils, colored pencils, sharpener, and eraser. I believe my students would take more pride and ownership in their work if they had the proper supplies. I also love the idea of my students having a sketch pad full of work at the end of the quarter to display. Teaching this art class has been such a rewarding experience for me and my students. This would make such a difference to my class.”
Anyone who has ever been inspired by a piece of art in a museum, a public park, or even someone’s home knows that art exercises our imaginations and urges us to think outside of the box. And anyone who has ever had the opportunity to make a work of art will tell you about the value of personal expression and how it helps us to make new connections to others, to ourselves, and to the communities we live in. Researchers have found that making works of art enhances intellectual, personal, and social development—especially for students who are economically disadvantaged and are at risk in school. Strong relationships have been found between arts learning and cognitive skills used to master other subjects like reading, writing, and math.
In case you aren’t sold yet on why this teacher’s project needs to be funded by you, how about if I put it this way: My birthday wish it that you will help me to make a difference to this teacher and these students who need our help. In honor of my 30th birthday—which is fast approaching—I am pledging to give $3 for every $1 you donate to this project.
I know times are tight, the holidays are coming up, and you’ve got 101 other great causes you are committed to. But I’m only asking you to give $1. Or maybe $10. Together, we can raise the full $305 it will take to provide art kits to every student in the class. Please donate now if art has ever made your life better. Or you can just donate because I’m asking you nicely. Either way, please donate now. Hurry—November 4 is just around the corner!
This post is part of the DonorsChoose.org Blogger Challenge.
It’s official! Today I joined the board of an association very near and dear to my heart. I’ve been volunteering with this particular organization on conferences and other activities for a few years now. I really feel it is an honor to serve on the board alongside other dedicated professionals who believe that museums play a critical role in society. I am excited to be among their ranks and am grateful to the people who nominated and voted for me to join the board. I hope I can bring some new ideas to the table and that I am good enough, smart enough, and that—doggone it— people like me!
Lesson learned: Hard work and a fabulous mentor can really get you places you want to go!
I know, I know. You’re starting to think this blog is getting pretty lame, what with me just getting away with eating new things and counting that as something new and all. But this was totally and completely unplanned! I had a business lunch at Rosa Mexicano, which I’ve been meaning to try for a while but my wallet hasn’t really been up for it. They’re guacamole is fantastic, by the way. I’d go back just for that . . . and the flan.
It wouldn’t be accurate for me to say that I’ve never eaten flan before. Or rather, that I’ve never tried to eat flan before. I’ve made the attempt . . . but I’ve never been able to follow through. I’m what they call a “texture” person. I can’t really explain what that texture is exactly—it’s the slimey-ness of a banana, the oozy-ness of a kiwi, the slippery-ness of Jell-O. I know that makes me sound like a picky eater but beyond those three things I can think of little else that I won’t eat. And even then, I’ll eat bananas in bread or in Runts any day!
So, it’s true that I’ve encountered flan in the past. And it wasn’t pleasant. No, it was more like “Wow, that looks fantastic and caramel-y and yum!” but “No, no, no! It feels like ectoplasm on my tongue, bleh!” usually followed. Not so this time. It was creamy and Despite Tom Sietsema’s opinion that the flan is too dense, I quite enjoyed myself. Thomas Head seems to like it too. Perhaps I’m just dense flan girl and it is all that other loosey-goosey flan that wasn’t for me. Who’s to know?
I think there’s something about the noon hour that makes dessert seem more scrumptious and bewitching. It feels slightly illicit and that always makes things seem just a little better, now doesn’t it? And who doesn’t love to go back to the office talking about the great “flahn” one had as a treat during lunch break? (Click that link, by the way, it is hilarious. Just do it. Clicking the little “play” button triggers some dude modeling the proper pronunciation of flan. I don’t know why such things tickle me so but they do.)
I bet you think I just made up the flan thing on a whim, don’t you? Well, the proof is in the pudding: my very first blog post featured a comment from my pal Jones, suggesting that I (and I quote) “eat flan.” Check! AS to the fingernail clipping collection: well, that’s just not going to happen. Sorry, bud.
Lest you not be convinced that having flan is enough—even a damn good flan at that, and even when you see that it was indeed on my “to do” list prior to today—, I submit to you another something else new that I did today. I read bloopers in the bathroom. That’s right, doozies like: “Man Shot in Back, Head Found in Street.” No, I wasn’t hiding out in the office toilet with the funnies—I was using the facilities at the Newseum which features tiles etched with flubbed headlines of yesteryear in its stalls. I haven’t toured the museum exhibitions yet but, if the ladies room is any indicator, I’m sure the place is worth the $20 “seems-steep-in-a-town-full-of-free-museums” entrance fee.
Lesson learned: If at first you don’t like flan, try and try again.
I attended a reception at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for an association event this evening and was excited to learn that the second floor exhibitions were open for guests. I skipped the hors d’oeuvres and headed for The Panza Collection exhibition, comprised of new works acquired by the museum from a private collector. The pieces include art from the “Conceptual, Light and Space, Minimal, and Environmental” art movements. (I use quotes here because I’m citing the exhibition brochure; I’m not sure I would have had a clue what movements these pieces were from otherwise. Perhaps the “bore our viewers to tears” movement?)
I was disappointed from the get-go, probably because I have little love for gallery spaces with nothing in them except a few vinyl words on a wall spelling out “It can only be known as something else” (sorry, Robert Barry). Upon encountering this work, I audibly sighed. I was hoping for something that would make me feel something other than an irresistible desire to roll my eyes. Maybe the original “graphite on wall” version would have been more interesting (you can learn a lot from an exhibition checklist if you try hard enough). But I doubt it.
I know these guys (not one of the pieces in the show was by a woman, as far as I can tell) were supposed to be challenging traditional ideas about aesthetics and the meaning/nature of art (again, I know this thanks to the brochure). But I just can’t get behind something that feels less powerful to me than it would have in a poem, which I could have read anywhere and would not have taken up so much precious space on the National Mall. I walked past piece after piece—a large grey line on a wall; a definition of the word “idea” printed in white on a black square of cardboard; another word, “self-defined,” formed out of white neon tubing—and I felt, well, nothing. And that just makes me sad.
Most of the time I “get it”—art doesn’t have to be beautiful, or made with paint or marble; it doesn’t need to make sense or make you feel good. But art that makes you feel nothing just seems like such a waste. I’m okay with being shocked, horrified, saddened, humored, confused, surprised, awed. The Hirshhorn’ exhibition description tells us that the works in the Panza collection are made by:
artists (who) dismissed conventional concerns in favor of an avid engagement with ideas, processes, social and political issues, the body, and phenomenological experiences.”
Sounds good to me. But I didn’t feel anything “avid” or “engaging” about most of the works I encountered, which is a shame. And then I read this little tidbit about Dr. Panza:
(He) distinguished himself by his willingness to collect art that few museums or private collectors at the time were willing to acquire, such as Conceptual works that exist only as documentary certificates or room-sized installations that require vast storage space and significant resources to install.”
Now we were getting somewhere. It’s true that the exhibition showcases items you’ve probably never seen before. I hadn’t really thought about why (other than the fact that I disliked them and so, therefore, didn’t really care). And just as I was about to give up hope, I came across this little number:
I found basically no interpretation of this work in the gallery itself. But a quick google search for “Roman Opalka” turned up an article, “The Weight of the Infinite.” Apparently, Opalka has been painting numbers for quite some time, beginning with “1” in 1965. The series this piece belongs to, called “Details,” begins with white numbers on black and, as time progresses, he lightens the background: black, grey, . . . white? Yes, at some point, he should get the point where he is painting white numbers on a white background. Why? That’s not the point, and that’s not why I’m writing about him. I was attracted to the two photographs, not the numbers on canvas. Apparently, each time Opalka completes a canvas of numbers, he takes a photograph of his face. So, as his numbering slowly stretches towards the infinite (and will eventually be invisible), so does his life trajectory reach toward the finite (the photos attest to the process of aging, which must ultimately lead to, well, death). Pretty heavy, huh? Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it? More than that, it probably makes you feel something—fear of your own mortality, sympathy for a dying man—yeah? And even if the concept of it doesn’t move you, the photographs alone speak to the human condition: at once alive in the moment and yet always slowly dying.
My Panza Collection experience was worth it just for this piece alone—or rather, for this man alone. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I also enjoyed Doug Wheeler’s ethereal “Eindhoven, Environmental Light Installation,” Richard Long’s naturally soothing “Carrera Line,” or Jan Dibbets’s oddly mesmerizing “The Shortest Day of 1970 Photographed in My House Every 6 Minutes from Sunrise til Sunset.” If you have a half hour, check the exhibition out. Let me know what you think. Or better yet, let me know what you felt.
Lesson learned: If you open yourself up to something you think you won’t like, you just might be surprised. Also, knee-high boots with wooden soles are REALLY noisy in an echoey-empty gallery space “filled” with minimalist works. Go for ballerina flats or maybe (more likely in my case, at least) your favorite Pumas.
Last week, I purchased a gigantic apple from the farmer’s market. I’m not talking big. I’m talking a massive, colossal, enormous, elephantine, whopping apple. When I brought it to the grower-seller to purchase it, along with a few other apples and some field greens, he actually said:
Whoa. That’s a big apple.”
The guy to his left stopped mid-way through selling a bagful of butternut squash to admire the specimen.
Dude, that is big!”
So, I’m telling you, this apple was no ordinary apple. When I purchased it, my intention was to chop it up for a dinner salad. I often use fruit (lots of apples, pears, grapes, mango, or whatever other fruits are in season) in meal-sized salads alongside Gorgonzola or goat cheese, a handful of walnuts or pecans, and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Sometimes I even go crazy and throw in some sliced chicken breast. I never get tired of these meals because the season, the place I purchased the items, or the specific combination I went for that evening always makes the experience different. Whether my husband gets tired of salad for dinner is another story; a meal just isn’t a meal for him unless it involves a bread product.
So, I thought this particular apple was destined for dinner. But I’m in the third week of this challenge and things are starting to get desperate. I looked at the apple. It looked at me. I decided to take a glamour shot of it alongside a size-verifying object. You know, like a quarter.
The more I viewed it from the artist’s lens, the more it sucked me in. The apple was shiny and plump and calling my name. So I went for it. The first bite was glorious—crisp, sweet, and just the right amount of tart. The next few bites were pretty darn good too. By minute five, I wasn’t feeling so psyched about the gargantuan apple. I tried to pawn it off on my husband. He looked at the quickly-browning flesh and turned me down. My dog gave me the “what’s-that-I-might-want-to-eat-it” look that he gives whenever I have something (edible or not) in my hands. I held it out to him. He sniffed. And then he walked away. I got through about 2/3 of the apple before I gave up.
Lesson learned: It’s easy to “go big or go home” when you’re already home.