Friday, May 15, 2015

Travel to west and to Dallas; there's art in Dallas too

                             "Nature or Abundance" by Leon Frederic, at Dallas Museum of Art.

     I have always been more partial to realism or impressionism than other forms of art when it comes to painting. The purely abstract or cubist artists have never "done it" for me. But at the Dallas Museum of Art you have many choices.
     Yes, after a "whirlwind" tour of the West (Vegas, Sacramento area, Yosemite National Park's tall peaks, and the family nearby) I started back toward the East coast with visiting my son in Dallas. The plane ride to Dallas got horrendous (we must have hit the tip of a thunderstorm near the airport, and the passengers applauded when we landed), with being buffeted about and the plane dropping a few feet a couple of times, making people in their seats go "Ohhhhh." We made it and I was glad of it.
    Of course, we had to see the obligatory memorial to John F. Kennedy at the 6th Floor Museum, which showed the window assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shot from, and a lot of other interesting information. But Dallas has 'art' too! Dallas also makes you think of the "Dallas" TV soap opera, but what about art?
     The "Dallas Museum of Art"  is very spacious and son Adam knew what he wanted to see. Religious art not so much-- he'd probably seen plenty on a trip to Europe. The primitive sculptures of people in the African art section he considered predictable, but other areas of this multi-floor museum kept his interest.
      The Reubenlike fleshy woman of  the 1750's "Abduction of Europa" I found interesting and attractive, more so than the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, or the Modernist approach of Mondrian with his lines and squares. I remember in high school having a braless art teacher who talked about Mondrian, though I have no memory of doing a lot of colored lines and squares.

     Also in the museum was the "Mirror Stage," which was a video in a darkened room. A person outside us warned there'd be bad language and possibly nudity so Adam was eager to go. Inside, the video showed young women with oddly painted faces complaining about their lives. It was more performance than art and we quickly left.
     The Incan "language" of  knotted cords on the wall was unique. If you don't have the actual symbols of your language like words, would thin rope (or was it like yarn) in various knots be as adequate?
      Across from the museum and across from that are outdoor areas to explore. The Nasher Sculpture was next to the DMA but it was dinnertime and we skipped it. Pictures of it make it look like a great place to walk among trees and outdoor art. The DMA had an outdoor sculpture garden too, but they were closing it as we got near (it was close to 5 0'clock). And across from THAT is a park in the median of the highway, with colored folding chairs and some landscaping and a restaurant with what looked like shooting flames in a few places inside. Different, to say the least. So the museum and its surroundings are worth your time -- no admittance fee (donations requested, though).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Did you know that-- value of dandelions

     There are actually a number of "natural" healthy foods if we took the time to do a bit of research. Take dandelions, for example. Dandelions, although thought of as ugly weeds that people pollute the environment for in order to kill them, are actually special. They are "edible," folks. They contain ingredients that help your liver do its most important function, which is processing and breaking down drugs we ingest and are exposed to. By using the leaves in salads, or boiling the root for tea, you are "helping" yourself. Besides, dandelions last maybe five weeks and then they are done and leave your property. Don't put pesticides into the water supply. Eat those plants and enjoy!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Visiting Charlottesville downtown, McCormick Farm



               The second place we visited, historic McCormick Farm on VA. Tech property.

    I was on the street with my fellow naturalists in the unlikely place of downtown Charlottesville. Charlottesville, founded in 1762, several years before Thomas Jefferson starting building his famous Monticello, with its interesting gardens and architecture, has some interesting spots of its own, with some narrow streets (one time for horse drawn carriages) and old architecture everywhere (and perhaps Jefferson would still feel comfortable there today). Since our wetlands training was actually supposed to be two hours away in Richmond, putting us in the wrong spot we thought, what the heck, let's walk a bit downtown.
     The library where we were supposed to meet was on Market Street, with its part organic "Market Street Market," an interesting combo of coffee shop, fresh produce stand indoors, and specialty items for sale like organic packaged goods. I think I even picked up a peanut butter bar that was gluten free and pretty good overall. So we ventured away from the library and Market, and in less than two blocks took a turn, on the advice of a local, down to what is called the "Downtown Mall."
     Here, on a brick covered walkway, you can visit all kinds of historic shops. We briefly (my cohorts were impatient) looked around the Timberlake (the name makes me think of  Justin) Drugstore, a corner store with a formal white facade, that was formerly a bank and kind of looks it. Inside it's been an old timey drugstore since 1917. I say that because it still has those covered round stools and counter, the so-called soda fountain, where you can still get a limeade, milk shake or soup. But we were impatient. It had a good variety of loose candies in baskets near the register, and one wall had a lot of lotions and soap. I settled on a greenish aloe and cucumber one that would make a great face soap, and a few tiny Peppermint patties. And down from this, to the east on Main Street, we obtained some information at the visitor center, which is very close to a covered "pavilion" I assume is used for city concerts.
     Up a few short blocks in this very brick and mortar area was the oldest home in "Historic Downtown," built in 1785 and of course of a brownish brick on the outside. I wondered if it was open on Saturday, as a sign nearby said they served lunch from 11-2 from Monday to Friday. But I knocked on the door anyway, and a hostess graciously let us see some of the colorful rooms. It'd been a law office and they had actually tried to cut off one of the fireplaces in a shortened room and covered up the hardwood floors, but this "Inn at Court Square" was redone and refurbished. Interesting was the John Kelly room with the lime green walls, bright yellow ceiling and oak looking head and end boards on the spacious bed. The red door to the building also stood out.
     But it was lunch time and we decided to head down the road, off I-81, to the old McCormick Farm, now owned by Virginia Tech. It was rustic and rather cool. We picnicked in the car and walked around the log cabins and grist mill, the mill containing miniature models on display of Cyrus McCormick's famous mechanical "Virginia reaper," which in 1934 could do the work of three men or more. It would speed up the gathering and cutting of wheat and grains, and was improved upon. He was only in his twenties when he invented it-- well, necessity "is" the mother of invention, I'd suspect.
     There was a little trail we didn't get the chance to explore, and the farm buildings still standing at this National Historic Landmark were fairly close together. We don't even think about what it takes to farm anymore. Tractors and disc harrow tools are used now on farms and I suppose there are fancier reapers or "gathering" machines now (probably motorized and using too much gasoline). Maybe the mechanical way without dependence on oil is better. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Weight an issue --Thinking about the future

     The other day I really mangled myself, in the walking department. As I was leaving the grocery store, there was an oncoming car and I wondered: is he coming right at me or what? It turned out to be or what, I moved to side, and hit this stupid grove in the sidewalk at a weird angle. I fell, and proceeded to half twist my right knee, and somewhat sprain my feet. Real smart. But then, if you have skinny ankles and feet and are over 50 (post menopause), things weaken. I really need to be more sure footed. Are there exercises for this?
     I don't need any more stress though, dealing with planning a big trip to see family on the West coast. Of course, weight is an issue, which doesn't make it any easier as you get older. I'm sure if I were lighter maybe that fall would not have happened. It was just an odd accident.
     Actually did get back some results from the "Lifeline" screening people, and my arteries, (despite my love affair with chocolate and sugar) are normal, according to their cursory tests. They only thought there might be a slight echo of a heart beat (like an extra heart beat) I should have checked out. I do need to have less chocolate --- have tried to eliminate hot cocoa packets and (for a while) give up chocolate as part of a Lenten choice. It worked, for a short while. Getting older, I guess I should eat a little better in the dessert department.
      I will say it is peaceful here in the silent study room at R. U., all by myself. Outside the window they are putting up these towers (not exactly like the Two Towers of Lord of the Rings fame, but imposing nonetheless) and digging up dirt with machines. There was once a nice little brick house there. Oh well.
     Now it is time to read a bit of this Sally Ride bio. I'd like to do a book about "Great American Women," and as our first lady astronaut, she was one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nature Journaling is easy; Write about Nature

        A few days ago I came back with some weary, fellow Master naturalists from Charlottesville, having gotten there for a 9 a.m. training concerning wetlands at the local library. And our trainers didn't show! We called them and decided upon our "own" training the following weekend, and did some foot traveling on Market Street and this brick floored area called The Mall, as well as visiting some farmland owned by Virginia Tech near exit 205.
     Which leads me to my point: experiences outside are much more vivid and better remembered if you write about it soon after it happens, in your own nature journal.
     I've kept a number of little notebooks over the years, and now also blog about nature (at now too. With the incredibly warm temperatures we've had (just love the spring temperatures, my favorite temps of all!) there is much to want to record and remember. 
     Just the other day we visited church friends and under a bare, grayish trees was a burst of color on their front lawn. I eyed these crocuses, these purple little light bulb shaped flowers, with the light orange stamens and pistil, and also their pencil thin bright green stems and skinny leaves, and smiled. I didn't have a camera or sketch pad handy -- I tend to write about nature more than I illustrate it -- but the memory of this harbinger of spring is still fresh in my mind. Perhaps I should sketch them later on, on a sketch pad I have in my office.
     Keeping a nature journal doesn't have to be an expensive venture. If you can't afford an art pad you can fold typing paper in half, punch a hole through it, and tie it together with a colorful slip of yarn or ribbon you have laying around the house or apartment. Then you can record your thoughts about what you have experienced outside, on a particular day. You can use pen or pencil, or even a thin marker if you have your art all planned out and definitely won't make a mistake! Journaling, describing what you see and how you felt and all the colors and shapes that abound, can only enhance the outdoor experience.
     If only people "would" stop to smell the roses, sketch them, think about them, how they are a perfect part of the day, we would have less violence and worry in society today. Everyone now, go outside and sketch!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Governor Andrew Cuomo-- help teachers without taking away tenure

   It’s enough to stress out the average public school teacher. I say average, because teachers in America teach in different circumstances. You have teachers at so-called Charter Schools with their own education theme and requirements, which may be quite different from public schools; you have teachers at magnet schools, under the purview of the local school system yet also allowed to be creative and innovative where needed; and there are the home schooled children, who, depending on the state, can be anyone from a parent to a highly certified education professional. Then there are the beleaguered public school teachers, the ones who teach most of the children in the U.S., the ones with the least say about their teaching environment and materials, being threatened yet again by another government official.

   In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to, essentially, take away teacher tenure and make it harder and harder to stay a public school teacher (see ). My friend Bud, who teaches in New York State, points out that though a Democrat, Governor Cuomo is incredibly unpopular with the teachers’ union. He believes that by making it more and more difficult to be a teacher that young people who would make good teachers are going to flock to the professional. 
   In point of fact, he will be helping to chase them away, and get present teachers to quit. You “don’t” help students by taking away all their teachers’ rights. A better way to help teachers help students is to ask “what teachers need,” instead of
the “this is what you are stuck with, so deal with it” philosophy of education.
    Making test scores 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will cause teachers to teach “to the test” more, making school less interesting and motivating for students. Especially in the elementary grades, we want to encourage students to want to come to school, and help develop their interests in science, reading and math. Will that happen if teachers have no time to be creative? And can a teacher magically improve her “test score” if her heterogeneous group of students is just a group poor at test taking or below average overall?
    What about some accountability on the part of students and parents? Bud tells me he used to give his students work to take home, so the parents could work with them and help them improve. He stopped doing that because the parents never looked at the folder. Parents should, at least on weekends, have some responsibility for providing some enrichment for their kids, perhaps even working with their child on an assignment and reading a story together. Teachers can’t do it all; they need the support of parents and (sometimes lazy) students.

    But Governor Cuomo, like so many who don’t teach or even consider what teachers need besides constant orders, isn’t considering the needs of teachers. And “teaching to the test” is not motivating. For many students, it’s a plain bore.
    Teachers need better professional development and evaluation by people who “actually teach,” such as experienced Master teachers. They need parental support. They need more disciplined students. They do NOT need to have tenure taken away from them and to constantly teach to the test.
    It is no wonder parents take their kids to Charter schools. There teachers are allowed to be innovative, while at the same time, parents are expected to be more involved. If we ran public schools more like that, maybe all students would do better overall.