Friday, December 16, 2016

Gingerbread Architecture

I've MIA for the last few weeks, but I'm starting to get back into the swing of things.  Last weekend I attended Architecture Center Houston's annual Gingerbread Build-off. 

I love this event. It's sweet, it's silly, it's an excuse to play with sugar and have some fun.  There weren't as many entries this year as in previous years, but everybody's imagination came out to play.

If you want to see the winners, click here

 a re-creation of the famous graffiti on I-10, but with better traffic. Love the broccoli trees.

Is it Bob? or Kevin?

The farm was already great, but the fondant animals put this one over the top. I can't believe they didn't win.

This team did The "Wizard of Oz meets Sharknado" I don't know who the guy on the left is, but I respect a man who commits to the theme.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chalk it up to experience

Saturday, I had tickets to Via Colori, which is a fundraiser for The Center for Hearing and Speech.  It's a two-day street painting festival, where various organizations (and a few invited artists) get together and do chalk murals on the streets around Hermann Square.

Doing this takes a lot of coffee
I'd heard about this festival a few years ago, but this was the first year I was able to go. The weather was absoloutely perfect and there was something to take a picture of around every corner. Heaven.  There was even an alley full of food trucks where I got to try kimchi fries, which I highly recommend. (However, it gives you the worst breath imaginable. Bring mints.)

There were a lot of Dia de las Muertos themes
It's a two day festival, and I only went on the first day, so the pictures I have are of largely unfinished works. For better pictures, click on the link above, and check out the photo gallery.
Sunset in Houston
This one was going to be 3-D when finished

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Weekend in the Country

Last weekend, I went to my friend's farm. I was officially there to help build a fence. But my total lack of fence building ability was blatantly obvious, and I can't drive a tractor, so instead I made coleslaw, helped watch children and dogs, and dug sweet potatoes.

The completed fence
 Sometimes, it's nice to have physical labor to do. It takes your mind off other things.

late-season blackberries
It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, and the fall colors, (what colors we get) were starting to show. And there was the added bonus of seeing Michelle's fall garden, which is doing quite well.  She sent me home with a head of lettuce and some radishes. I love having friends who garden.

mushrooms on the lawn - they formed hemi-spherical pods


eggplant blossom


Our sweet potato haul - unfortunately, I hate sweet potatoes
tomatillos - not ripe yet

late bloomers

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Taking the high road

I usually let political posts on Facebook go. Facebook is not a good forum for reasoned discussion. But after the election last week, someone posted a collage of former first ladies and our prospective new one titled from “class to trash”. All of the women were wearing the basic, political wife, twin set and pearls drag; except Melania, who was nude.  I couldn’t help myself. I said in the comments that it was uncalled for. She had been a model before marrying the Donald, and most models have done nudes at some point, including the former First Lady of France, Carla Bruni.
And I took heat for it, and all along the same theme: If Michelle Obama had nude pics floating around, the right would have given her holy hell and nobody would have defended her. Look at the fuss they raised over her wearing a sleeveless dress to the State of the Union.
  • This is not the point, but: There was some defense of Michelle Obama. Many people pointed out that Jackie Kennedy had worn a sleeveless dress to the State of the Union.
  • This is the point: Just because some yahoos treated Michelle badly (and they did) that does not give you the right to treat Melania badly.  As the lady herself said “When they go low, we go high.”
Let me clarify that I am no fan of Mr. Trump.  I am seriously troubled by the election results.  I know very little about Melania,  but I feel anger is better directed at Donald Trump and his advisors, not his wife.
And I’m not saying that we should give her (plagiarized) convention speech a free pass.  But calling her a skank and posting old photos doesn’t address that.  It’s just being crude.
I know being the bigger person is not fun.  Taking the high road is a thankless task.  You get no laughs, no-one 'likes' your Facebook posts for not insulting people. There are few memorable one liners; it's both frustrating and boring.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath . . . but a smart aleck one is more personally satisfying.”  - Bloom County
But if we truly want to mend our nation’s social fabric and raise the level of discourse, perhaps we should stop trying to score points off of one another and actually discuss the problems facing us.  If we remain civil, the other side might talk to us.  If we listen to them, they might listen to us.  We might even be able to get something done.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Light the Night

In my never-ending quest to find cool things to take pictures of, last weekend I went to The Lights Festival (Light the fire within!). I signed up for it sometime in July, put it on my calendar and forgot about it for several months.

Fortunately, my calendar and The Lights people sent me reminder emails, plus a note saying to please show up by 4:30 pm and bring a chair.

This is what you get, a mini-marker, a mini-flashlight, a sticker and a lantern, in a cute little burlap bag.

If you are unfamiliar with The Lights, this is what their website says:

The Lights Festival™ is a evening like no other. Imagine entering a place of peace, tranquility, and acceptance while enjoying laughs, smiles, and a little bit of dancing with the ones you love most. Never has there been an experience that allows you to throw your inhibitions to the side, and let your dreams fly. Join us for this one night experience of music, food and memories. The time is now to light the fire within.

Who wouldn't want a bit of that? So I packed my folding chair and a selection of reading material and off I went to the Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown. I arrived a little after 3pm.

I looked at my packet. I read my book. I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Around 6 (7?) they had a very nice singer attempt to entertain the crowd. She sang a few Dolly Parton and Kacey Musgrove songs, plus a few of her own. A nice change of pace, but she was up against a crowd of several thousand extremely bored people, who mostly ignored her. 

It became too dark too read.

This guy came prepared.

Finally, finally, they light the tiki torches. The crowd awakes from its stupor. Something is happening. But it's not dark yet. More light pop music from the sound system. It's getting genuinely dark, and the organizers, who seem like pleasant, earnest people, attempt to fire up the crowd. Cranky people who've been sitting in a parking lot for over 4 hours don't fire up easily.

It would be better if we could do something, but we are told DON'T LIGHT YOUR LANTERNS YET!!!! many times. The fire marshal has concerns. It's windy. If I have spent my entire day in a parking lot to not set my lantern on fire, I will be really upset. So will the rest of the crowd, which numbers approximately 10,000 by this point.

They lit the torches! Maybe we'll get to do something!

After another 30-40 minutes, some very bad jokes and an onstage proposal, (Too late, at this point, nothing short of Prince reincarnating on stage is going to get my full attention) the fire marshal gives the go ahead and they tell us how to light the lanterns. Sort of. The sound system isn't as good as it should be, and the guy telling us what to do is speaking too softly. But we get to light our lanterns!

Chaos ensues. People set fire to the lanterns instead of the fuel cell, people send them off sideways instead of straight up, so they fall to the ground and crash into people. There are small children in the crowd, always a plus when dealing with fire. Eventually, I get my lantern lit and after three tries figure out how to get it airborne.

And for one brief instant, it looks like the scene in Tangled. It is truly a magical moment.

Which lasts all of 5 minutes, and then I come crashing back to reality because I realize I've lost my chair, which has my bag sitting on it, which contains my wallet. I spend 20 minutes looking for my chair in a shifting crowd, devoid of landmarks, any and all soul-improving, mystic benefit gone.

Eventually, I find my chair and wallet, and then spend an hour trying to get out of the parking lot.

My attempt at a panoramic shot.

Conclusion: Go online and buy your own lanterns and do it with friends at home. It won't be as impressive, but it won't be as stressful either. And no-one will be trying to sell you corn dogs, lite beer, or souvenirs "of such a special night."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Two exhibits, Two worlds

Admission stickers
There are two vastly different exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts right now. I would recommend going now, before the holidays when everyone has out of town relatives they need to entertain.

The first exhibit is Degas: A New Vision

This is the only American stop on the tour of this exhibit, so see it if you can. It is a true survey of his career, starting with student sketches and ending with photographs he took towards the end of his life.  You can see how his work changed over time, from when he was a student of Ingres, to when he started experimenting with the looser brushwork of the impressionists. There are paintings, sketches, prints, and bronzes (including the famed "Little Dancer").  There are even some works from his time in New Orleans. I had no idea he'd ever left Europe, let alone spent time in a cotton office in Louisiana.  Limited photography is allowed.

The second exhibit is Emperor's Treasures: Works from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

This exhibit covers works from the early 12th century to the early 20th century. There are porcelains, cloisonné, ink wash paintings and scrolls, Buddhist Sutras done with exquisite penmanship in gold ink on indigo-dyed paper, carved jade and one monstrously ugly, solid gold ewer. (It's in the last room, if you must see it.) My favorite item is a porcelain teacup decorated with chickens.

I've actually been to the museum in Taipei, but I was 12 years old and severely jet-lagged. I remember bejeweled fingernail protectors and some carved jade, but my main memory of the stopover was dropping the hotel keychain on my foot. (It was about 8 inches long and solid brass. It hurt.)

Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed of this exhibit. But if you are thinking ahead to Christmas,  they have a nice gift shop, with the cutest salt and pepper shakers.  I, myself, opted for a keychain with a glow-in-the-dark bok choy (A reproduction of one of the museum's most famous exhibits; sadly, not part of the Houston show.). What is life without a touch of whimsy?

The monkeys are salt and pepper, the bird is for soy sauce

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Carrot soup with miso

Being single usually isn’t all that bad.  You can watch whatever programs you like; nobody hogs the remote, reprograms your car radio buttons, snores, eats the slice of cake you were saving for later, or requires you to go to really boring work parties because “I went to yours.”
But being sick when you’re single really sucks.  I know “sucks” is an inelegant way to put it, but “unpleasant” just doesn’t catch the depth of feeling.  It sucks, and there is no way around it.  One can’t arrange to have a suitably sympathetic boyfriend on call to insist that you sleep in, go to the drugstore when you’re so dizzy with flu you can’t see straight, or to make you soup. 
Soup, of course, is key.
Much as I like soup, when I’m sick, I want simple.  Sopa Azteca, tortilla soup, gumbo, etc. are all wonderful, but too complicated.  A good chicken soup is therapeutic, but it takes time to make, and I haven’t found a canned chicken soup I like. (Being a foodie can be hazardous.)  Campbell’s canned tomato soup (made with water, please) is almost perfect, but I didn’t have any on hand.
I could have gone to the store, but I was in that mid-level range of illness. The point where you’re mind says you should be up and doing, because lying in bed has become unutterably boring, but your body is just not cooperating. (Case in point, Sunday I got winded making the bed and had to sit down and rest afterwards.)
This soup was one I bookmarked because I’m trying to use up miso I bought for my Japanese cooking experiment*. And other than the miso, all the ingredients are things I usually have on hand, so no going to the grocery store and infecting the neighborhood.
True, this recipe does involve chopping 1 onion and 2 pounds of carrots, but you can do that sitting down.  I did.  Deb Perleman of Smitten Kitchen finishes this soup with a drizzle of sesame oil and and some scallions.  Oil makes me feel slightly nauseated at the moment, so I pureed a seeded ancho chili into it, because I like a soup with a bit of bite. The soup was both hot and sweet.  And all the beta carotene, vitamin C or whatever it is you get from all those carrots has got to be good for you.

Carrot soup with miso

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 regular or 6 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped or grated ginger, or more to taste
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken)
  • 1/4 cup white miso paste, or more to taste

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion and garlic sauté until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add broth and ginger. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender when pierced, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Puree soup in batches in blender, or all at once with an immersion blender. In a small bowl, whisk together the miso and a half-cup of the soup. Stir the mixture back into the pot of soup. Taste the soup and season with salt, pepper or additional miso to taste. ( I found the miso contained enough salt to make any extra salt unnecessary.)

This soup is a good basic. It's good plain, as a ginger carrot soup, or you can finish it with sesame oil and scallions, or red pepper flake. You can do what I did and puree a seeded chili into it. Coriander might be nice. 

*if you’ve been following the blog, you know the Japanese cooking experiment was over a year ago.  But I’ve found that miso, refrigerated in a sealed container, has a shelf life of approximately forever.

Monday, October 17, 2016

6 Days in Mexico City

Temple of the Sun - Teotihuacan
I got halfway up. The people who built this (nobody's really sure who) had really good legs.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Mexico City for a week. This is not the relaxed Mexico of white-sand beaches and tequila and all-inclusive resort hotels.  It’s more like New York than Miami.

Mexico City is big.  I read the guidebook and knew (intellectually) that Mexico City was a sprawling urban area of 22 million people, but the sheer size does not really register until you see it. It’s huge.  And the locals seem to like building big as well. If they can make something taller, wider, grander, more monumental, they do it.
Palacio de Bellas Artes - Pure Beaux Arts on the outside, pure Art Deco on the inside

A lot of Mexican architecture seems to intentionally dwarf its inhabitants. It’s impressive, not particularly friendly, but very impressive.
University of Mexico
Of course, I didn’t get to see the whole town. Who could see this place in only a week? It would take a month just to get your bearings.  My paltry 6 days barely scratched the surface; all I have is a quick impression. 
Painted storefront - Avenue of the 20th of November
Mexico City is a fascinating, culturally diverse, intriguing, and totally overwhelming destination.  I learned about pre-Columbian food, Aztec theology, the Virgin of the Guadalupe, earthquakes and subsidence (erecting monumental stone buildings on swampy ground is not a good idea).
Aztec goddess in the Archeological Museum - This carving is about twice the size of my car.

I came back impressed and exhausted.  I also caught a cold that flattened me for a week when I got home. 

The main cathedral in the Centro Historico. The altar is solid onyx.
Michael Jackson Day of the Dead figurine
Answered prayers

Mariachis in Xochimilco

Temple of the Sun - Teotihuacan 
When I took this picture, I had agreed to climb the pyramid, and was beginning to think I had lost my mind.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I don't know if I understand this

My head hurts

Bear with me. I'm trying to hash this out in my own mind.

There is a continuing trickle of women (some well known, others less so) posting naked or near naked pictures of themselves online. It's not the nudity that bothers me. If you want to display your assets to the world, that's your business. What I have difficulty parsing is how this is "empowering".

Hiliaria Baldwin shares underwear selfie

Kim Kardashian naked selfie

It seems to taken as gospel that if you are comfortable with yourself, then you are okay with standing naked (or nearly so) in front of the world. That's why I keep seeing variations on the "less than a perfect size two wears bikini to the beach!" non-story.

Woman wears bikini to the beach for the first time ever
Woman buys first bikini at 31

I was under the impression that feminism was about women being seen as more than their bodies. That women could and should be appreciated for their talents and abilities. But apparently, even women who can compete on an Olympic level are not sufficiently liberated if they aren't willing to pose naked.

Amanda Bingson - 200 lbs and kicking ass

I'm not saying that women shouldn't wear, or not wear, whatever they like. And I realize that it's simple biological truth that people (men and women) like looking at naked women. Otherwise there would be no market for bikini pics. But why should displaying my naked body be a requirement for being a confident woman? 

Kim Kardashian "I am empowered by my body"

I don't understand how these pictures are supposed to "empower" anybody except Kim Kardashian, and she's empowered because she gets paid serious money for appearing in public nearly nude.  And it did not escape my notice that when her stepmother, Caitlyn Jenner appeared in Vanity Fair, she did it in underwear. If one is coming out as a woman, celebrating becoming a woman, why does that involve appearing in public wearing an outfit that belongs in the bedroom? Is that not equating women with their sexuality, which is something feminism has been fighting for decades?

Call me Caitlyn

If I like a more covered up look, does that make me less empowered? Does a preference for skirts long enough to sit down in mean I am not confident in my abilities? Am I giving in to the patriarchy and body shaming if I'd rather wear a tank suit, or long sleeves?

To quote Bloom County: "I am full blown, gonzo, confused."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day is one of those holidays that I forget about until it's too late. I typically go to the movies or clean the house. And this labor day I swept and vacuumed, washed and dried, folded and dusted, and generally did all the chores I've been putting off doing. So it's been a very productive weekend.
But don't feel sorry for me. Last July, long before I remembered about Labor Day, I booked a Houston Street Art Tour with Destination English. It was fascinating.  I knew there were quite a few murals popping up around town, but since I now live in the suburbs, I've only caught the occasional glimpse of them. The tour was lead by two Houston women who, like many of us who live here, got irritated by people telling them "but there's nothing in Houston but freeways and office buildings."  So they've started leading tours of Houston's cultural offerings.
I took about a hundred pictures, experimenting with a different lens (my regular lens is in the shop).  In addition to having fun taking pictures, I picked up some new lingo:
  • "slaps" are art stickers (I have one from the tour - it says "Don't harsh my mellow")
  • "blowies" are those really round letters that look like they've been inflated
We also got to speak with Mr. D (Sebastian Boileau) of Eyeful Art Murals and Custom Designs, who painted many of the murals we saw.  He is from Paris, and bounced around from California to Dallas before settling in Houston. He spoke about the "Biscuit Paint Wall" (he's surprised it's as popular as it is) some of the process behind "Mars" and asked us why we all decided to spend our Saturday looking at murals. 

And did you know Houston has a museum dedicated to street art? The Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas (The GASAM Texas).  They are still settling on a building location, but they do have a temporary spot and they have their own artist-led tours. Check them out.

I won't bore you with all 100 photos, but here's a selection.

This was one of a series of murals commissioned by the Houston Zoo to advertise its new ape enclosure.
The largest mural in Houston  (notice God is holding Mr. D's logo?) - 2850 Fannin 

One side of the Mars building - Leeland and Caroline (three sides of the building are painted) I know, the power cables are in the way, but what can you do?

HueFest 2015 logo - Leeland and St. Emanuel. I'm kind of irritated by the sunspot on his hat. I'll have to go back at another time and retake it.

Some slaps (on the right)

across the street from the Huefest 2015 site - It's a tattoo parlor

I love the cartoonish style this guy has

Going from left to right I think it's: Maya Angelou, Princess Diana, Selena, Frida Kahlo and Cleopatra.

Don't you just love the way the artist has integrated the building into the mural? - also at the HueFest site