Thursday, July 17, 2014

Make a Difference

This handsome fellow is made of scavenged lumber,
chicken wire, and Tyvek. He is the work of Katherine Settle,
a gifted artist and writer.

          My goal for this blog has always been simply to write essays that entertain people.

          However, today I'm going to do something that is pretty much the definition of the opposite of entertaining.

          I'm going to ask you for money.

          I have a friend—Katherine Settle, the artist who made the buffalo above—who works hard, is a great artist as well as a wonderful writer, and is unfailingly generous and kind. She's taught me to be a better writer and a better person. She is also divorced, with a kid, in rural Kansas, and she's struggling financially.

          She works as a university Teaching Assistant, a job which pays a little above the minimum wage. She sells her art work in a local gallery. She prioritizes the emergencies that seem to visit people with little money so very regularly. She scrambles to make it all work. But, as anyone knows who has ever tried to make a slender paycheck stretch all the way to the end of the month, those emergencies keep happening, and she's tapped out.

          She needs our help. Please, go to her gofundme.com page and make a donation.

          If you love the arts and want to make a real difference in an artist's life, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you looked at the buffalo pictured above and said to yourself, "Wowza, what a great buffalo!" please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you're an avid reader, and want to make sure that the voice of a wonderful writer is heard, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you remember the days when you struggled to make ends meet, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've been a single parent, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever had to forgo medical care because you couldn't afford it, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've had to jerry-rig a house repair because you couldn't afford it, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever looked at your elderly car and prayed, "Please don't die today," please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever had a student loan to pay off, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever been the recipient of an act of kindness you weren't expecting, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever wanted to make a difference right here right now, please make a donation to Katherine.
          If you've ever enjoyed something I've written on this blog, please make a donation to Katherine.

          Thank you for making a difference in the life of my friend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Fun, According to K

          K's idea of a fun family project is anything that requires Digging Holes* and Lifting Heavy Things. Thus, last week's Fun family Project was a five-foot-tall Maximum Security Compost Bin that was, in K's opinion, both refreshingly heavy to lift and deliciously awkward to move into place. Unfortunately, no digging was required.

There is no escape for you now, compost!

          K rectified that tragic oversight with this week's Fun Family Project: a brick pad next to the back gate for the compost tumblers (we love our compost chez BanksWrites). Not only were there heavy things to lift (bricks! sand!), but there was also a hole to be dug in clay soil.

Precision digging skills were required.

          I discovered, while shifting bags of sand to their final destination**, that I can still hoist 50 pounds and carry it around. This surprised me, since I have long since given up the sport of my youth—throwing a 50-lb. sack of chicken feed on my shoulder and walking it up the hill to the chicken coop—for more sensible activities, none of which require horsing around 50-lb. bags of anything.***

          At a certain point in the laying of the brick, it became clear that this project was going to require the application of power tools.

          Now in both K's and my minds, the one thing that can turn a Fun Family Project into a Fabulous Family Project is the application of power tools. (It was how K lured me into helping him build the Maximum Security Compost Bin. "You can use the circular saw, Nancy!" he told me. "And the cordless drill! And the electric staple gun!" I was putty in his hands.)

          "We need to cut some bricks into smaller pieces for the edges," K told me. "It's too bad we don't have a tile saw."

          "Oh, but we do have a tile saw," I said. Several years ago, during the kitchen remodel on our previous house, I'd seen one of the crew use a portable tile saw and had become convinced that no well-managed household or art studio should be without one. And so I hied me to Home Depot and acquired one.

          K was awe-struck by my prescience. (This does not happen as often as I believe it should.) We located the tile saw, fired it up, and in no time at all the Fabulous Family Project was a Finished Family Project.

A perfect project—the finished brick pad does just exactly what it's supposed to do.
And power tools were required to make it.
          
----------------
*Preferably in heavy clay or stony soil.
**Filling the precision-dug hole so we could set the brick in it.
**Back in the day, I had not yet read the memo discussing the invention of an exciting new device—the wheel—and outlining its usefulness in the shifting of heavy items over long distances.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Memoriam, Telephone Version

          K's older brother, C, is a man of sentiment who has put no little effort into cultivating an irascible persona in order to prevent anyone from knowing what a softy he is. He's a gooey caramel center, if you will, wrapped in 40-grit sandpaper.*

          C still misses his parents, who died several years ago. So much so, that he has turned every mundane household item that he and his wife took when K and his brothers cleaned out their parents' house into a memorial. There are memorial dishes, memorial furniture, memorial cocktail glasses, and so on. None of these items are in any way rare or valuable, but for C, they resonate with memories of his parents.

          Perhaps the oddest memorial item C and his long-suffering wife have, though, is the Memorial Telephone Number.

          C transferred his parents' old land-line phone number into his name.

          This is not what I would call completely sensible behavior, frankly. Both my brother- and sister-in-law have cell phones with non-memorial numbers, which are their primary contact phones. Neither of them use the land line that carries the Memorial Telephone Number. No one places calls from the Memorial Telephone Number; no one answers the calls that come to the Memorial Telephone Number. A Memorial Answering Machine answers the Memorial Telephone when a robo-caller punches the sacred digits of the Memorial Telephone Number.

Hello? Is anybody there?

          There is a certain amount existential absurdity in a phone that no human answers taking calls that no human generates, and I pointed this out to my brother-in-law. No no, he told me; that is its exact function.

          It seems that my mother-in-law always told her children that if there were an afterlife, she would find some way to let them know. C is just making it easy for her to get in touch. She has only to dial her very own phone number and leave a message for him.

Assuming, of course, that the afterlife is provided with telephones.

---------------
*He also dislikes metaphor, so naturally I worked rather hard to build one for him so he will know I care enough to go out of my way to irritate him.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Magic Needle

          If I want to amaze and mystify my sons, all I have to do is mend an item for them. They can't get over the fact that I can snatch dustbin-bound items out of the waste stream and turn them useful again by the simple expedient of threading a needle and placing some stitches. It is magical to them that an article whose life was finished can be resurrected by someone skilled in the Dark Arts of darning.

Where the magic starts, according to my sons.
          
          I've been mending since I was old enough to steer a threaded needle through cloth, and this is the first time mending has ever been cool. I've always thought of it as one of those skills that helped make a well-ordered life, and I enjoy it as kind of a guilty pleasure, because frankly, tell someone you find a little hand-sewing of an evening relaxing and meditative, and they will forever after think of you as some sort of undercover Mennonite, and they will avoid you in all social situations, afraid that small talk will only encourage you to share your disturbing proclivities in technicolor detail.

Really, it's just a bit of simple stitching and needle-weaving. I promise I won't proselytize you
about it.
         
          But thank you growing interest in sustainability, and also thank you urban homesteading (even though I will not cease to mock you, because really—clotheslines?). You have made mending cool for the first time in the history of ever, and there is some very entertaining and thoughtful work (of both the mending and the writing sort) being done on this humble but necessary subject.

          I'm currently loving the blog posts and tweets from one Tom of Holland (AKA Tom van Deijnen), whose Visible Mending Programme is a way to subvert the usual idea of mending, which is patching something as invisibly as possible, and instead to bring the mend front and center, celebrating the act of mending, and turning the mend into something worthy of paying attention to.

A perfectly capable mend. In other days, I would have stopped here.

          I think this is a lovely idea, both in terms of bringing into focus an invisible yet important skill that few people (with the possible exception of my sons) think or care much about, and also because it amuses me deeply to take something necessary and useful and make it function also in a completely decorative manner. Architects, I've noticed, get paid very handsomely to do this.

A plain mend has turned into a cheerful sun, shining on the hem of my dish towel. It looks
a little like the pictographs you see in Native rock art, and this makes me very happy.

          My idea, of course, is that menders will eventually command great respect and a commensurate wage. I may have to wait a while for that to happen, but in the meantime, my mending basket waits.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Where I Went; What I Saw

          K and I were in New York City last week for Book Expo America, the book industry trade show. We went to seminars and learned stuff (I now have an "Essential Graphic Novels" reading list, even though I had previously suspected that the phrase was an oxymoron), walked a zillion miles on the trade show floor, talked to many different vendors, collected some keen freebies, and complained every evening about the sad state of our feet.

          We also learned what the Next Big Thing is going to be:

Food trucks? Meh. Book trucks? Too cool for school.

          We saw perplexing signage:

The sign in the school bus window says, "This vehicle has been checked for sleeping children."
Do crosstown commuters really care whether some child snoozes, forgotten, under the very last
seat of the school bus? Of course not. They're too busy honking at each others' questionable
driving skills.

             We ate exotic foods:

K's Scottish colleague with a plate of haggis (on the right), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes).
Haggis, the Scottish national dish, consists of boiled chopped sheep innards mixed with oatmeal
and doused with scotch. This version was, to my great shock, completely edible.

          We took a ferry to Staten Island:

This is the view of the city you get as you're headed to Staten Island.

          And then we came back again:

And this is the view you get as you're headed back to the city from Staten Island after a lovely
dinner. Ferries are one of the best ways to travel.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

…And Yet More Stained Glass

          Because, as the guys who built all those eye-catching cathedrals knew, you just can't get too much stained glass.

This beauty is also in the Cluny Museum's collection.

Something Different

          Instead of medieval stained glass today, I thought you might like to see my second very most favorite thing from the Louvre:*

The tomb of Burgundian nobleman Philippe Pot.

          This amazing article is life-sized, and so stunningly real that when you enter the room where it is displayed you believe, just for a moment, that you have unwittingly stumbled into a funeral procession from another age.

---------------
*My very most favorite thing of all in the Louvre? This guy:

La Mort Saint-Innocent

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More Medieval Stained Glass

          I was unable to resist photographing these charming little partridges, which form part of the Cluny Museum's stained glass collection.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Medieval Stained Glass

          The Cluny Museum in Paris has a lovely collection of medieval stained glass, beautifully lighted and displayed. It was a pleasure to be able to see the pieces up close and notice the masterful glass enamelling techniques used by the artists.

Arms of the Mullenheim family, Strasbourg, created by the studio of Peter Hemmel, Alsace.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Coneflower

          I was going through my photo archive and came across this photo of a coneflower just starting to bloom. It seemed like a good way to start May.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cody Theatre

          If you had to assign an architectural style to my hometown, you might call it Western Vernacular. That would cover everything from the Poverty Primitivism I remember so well growing up (tarpaper and license-plate-sided buildings and repurposed concentration-camp barracks*) to the Easty-Coasty Log-Mansionism that has gradually infiltrated Cody from second-home enclaves like Jackson Hole.

          When I was a kid, you wouldn't have used the word "architecture" in association with any building in town, except possibly the Irma Hotel, because the purpose of most of the buildings was not to impress the eye and gladden the heart, but rather simply to keep the wind and snow and most of the larger wildlife out and at least 50 percent of the heat in. Impressing the eye and gladdening the heart, as anyone who's ever had to keep body and soul together on what you can earn in a small western town can tell you, will not heat your house nor feed your kids. Cheap and practical is all that's required of public or private buildings—and it's certainly the style of architecture I remember when I think of Cody—unremarkable, but it got the job done.

          Sometimes you have to go away from a place and return to it before you see the gems it has hidden in plain sight.

          I was back in Cody for a visit a few years ago, walking down Sheridan Avenue and marveling at how touristy downtown has become (and this is saying something, for Cody has always been very touristy), when I chanced to look across the street at the movie theatre that has been in Cody ever since God was a pup.


          If you had asked me to describe the theatre I grew up going to, I would have said, "shabby." I would have added, "nondescript verging on ugly."

          I would not have said, as I stood across the street, gaping at that very same theatre, "My God, look at that lovely little Art Deco gem!" Nothing—literally nothing—has changed since I was a kid, and yet now I notice the Deco details on the building and marquee; I notice that the typeface spelling out "Cody Theatre" is a beautiful example of period type design; I notice how much care was taken in the design of the facade, and how it impresses the eye and gladdens the heart.

          And I think that perhaps I didn't grow up in such an unremarkable place after all.

---------------
*The barracks housed Japanese-Americans imprisoned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, one of ten centers where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during WWII.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

British Museum, I Love You

          If you have a Twitter account, you should follow the British Museum (@britishmuseum), if only because right now, in conjunction with what looks like a truly excellent exhibition on Vikings, they have an amusing little doodad that allows you to Viking yourself. This doodad is also available to non-Twittered Muggles on the museum's website.

          What does it mean to Viking yourself? You give them your name and photo and you get a new Viking surname, with runic translation, and a fabulous Viking accessory. If you have a Twitter account, you can tweet them your Viking-ed photo (@britishmuseum #VikingsLive), and see yourself on their Twitter feed.

This is pretty much the perfect way to spend an afternoon that really should
instead be spent doing Very Important Things That Are Not Nearly As Much Fun.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Shriner Gothic



          So I was at a conference the other day, held in the wonderful old El Jebel Shriner building in Denver. It was built in 1928, and it has the warmth and human scale and eccentricity that you expect of old buildings, and the lack of which makes new buildings so unlovable and unpleasant.

          I would have loved this building anyway, with its period architecture and its solid sense of its own history, but then I chanced to stroll down a hall and beheld this lamp and lost my heart utterly. For who would not adore to own a truncated arm sticking out of a wall holding a mosque-like lamp? Who would not be smitten by its whimsical grotesquery? Who would not long to give it pride of place in their own house? 

          As I have said before, K and I do not always find common ground on questions of interior d├ęcor. When I showed him this photo, and merely suggested that a pair of these delights, placed one on either side of the fireplace, would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the living room, he came very near to a fit of apoplexy.

          Quietly, I withdrew my suggestion. But I am biding my time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vintage

         I'm now in that in-betweeny period of life where items from my childhood that still seem reasonably au courant to me are considered "vintage" by the rest of the world. Frankly, I have enough things to obsess about right now without wondering when that mostly charming adjective will not just be used for Busted-up Artifacts From The Distant Past but will be applied to me personally, with the understanding that I, too, am one of those busted-up artifacts.

          For I don't feel vintage. I feel fresh and youthful and full of promise. This sign, however, with a logo that I distinctly remember from my childhood as being clean and hip and modern as all get-out, says otherwise.

Please tell me I'm aging better than this. Lie if you need to.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Words on Buildings

          I have a love affair with big words painted on buildings.

          Maybe it's the color scheme. Black, white, and red is always a powerful combination.

LoDo, Denver

          Maybe it's the size. Make something that big, and you have to pay attention to it.


Midtown Kansas City, Missouri.

          Maybe it's the wear and tear that makes them look like witnesses to a bygone time.

West Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Design of Cabbages

No, this is not a cooking post. It is a design post.

          So I was making dinner the other night and I had to stop right there in the middle of cutting up a cabbage to admire its gorgeous positive/negative space and to take photographs of it. K just shook his head; he's used to his dinner balancing precariously on the edge between food and design.

         

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nancy's Quilt



Wanderlust, based on the pattern Four Winds

          Although I make quilts from time to time, all the quilts in my house but one are made by other people. This is the one quilt of mine that I have kept. I call it Wanderlust because everything in it moves. There are tumbleweeds blowing, wheels rolling, leaves and wings fluttering. The design was a meditation on how much we moved house, giving ourselves up to chaos on a regular basis and then recreating order from it. I spent a lot of time graphing out the design, imposing order on the chaos of all those little squares* while trying to preserve its restless movement.

          If you're familiar with quilt patterns, you will even notice a secondary pattern—Broken Dishes. Broken dishes, as anyone who has moved can tell you, are a part of moving. They're a pattern within the pattern. I liked the idea of secondary patterns lurking within the main one, the idea that everything changes, always, depending on where you are standing and what you focus on.

          I intended it to be a comment on K's and my restless lives, but it is also the most accurate self-portrait I've ever done.

Detail of edging and binding.
---------------
*Every square in this quilt is a one-inch square. If you quilt, you will know what kind of folly this is. It's like tiling a warehouse floor using one-inch tiles. It is not a sensible thing to do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Emma's Quilt


Nine-patch with sashing

          My great-grandma had a wonderful eye for fabric. And she was living in the era when all the pretty "vintage" prints weren't vintage at all. They were fresh and new and modern.

I love all the fabrics, but I love the polka dots the very best of all.

          This is the baby quilt she made for me.

          Something I do on every baby quilt I make is to back it in flannel, so that one side is soft and cuddly. I think some people do it, but I don't really think it's a must-do thing. I don't see flannel backs all that often. But when Mom took this quilt out of mothballs to give to me, I noticed that great-grandma backed it in flannel. I carry on a tradition I didn't even know about.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Janie's Quilt

      
The pattern is Shoo Fly.

          Do you know the best thing of all about this quilt?

          The red squares. When I think of the woman who made this quilt (my great-great grandmother), I imagine her as sophisticated (the color combinations) and outspoken (the red squares and black triangles) and fearless (I have looked at a fair number of old quilts, and you don't see much black in them. But she was not afraid to put black in her pretty, mostly pastel quilt.).

I love the way she combines black, blue, red, brown and purple and makes it succeed.

          The note in my great-aunt's handwriting that was pinned to the quilt when it came to me tells me it is over a hundred years old, and also that it is well-traveled. It came from Nova Scotia to Sundance, Wyoming with my great-grandfather, and then to me in New Jersey when my great-aunt died. It has done more traveling with me; first to California, then to Missouri, and now to Denver. It still looks fresh and gorgeous—and unlike the previous two, no holes!

Look at those delightful wavy red lines! I am very sorry I never knew its maker.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crazy Serendipity

          I think I'm a reasonably lucky person, but I long ago came to grips with the fact that I am not the sort of lucky who wanders into an estate sale while she's out walking the dog and walks back out with a complete crazy-quilt top.

          Yet that is exactly what happened to me one morning years ago in San Jose. I'm still flabbergasted at my good fortune.

A very talented seamstress did this. By hand.

          I've always wanted a crazy quilt, but never figured I would get one. They are a Relic of Another Age, like antimacassars, and don't just drop serendipitously into the laps of people who aren't actively stalking them. Like most really lovely vintage items, they don't come cheap, either. And yet, I only had to part with $25 to get mine.

          How was I so lucky? Well, it was the only remaining one of several that were obviously complete and I suspect in better condition than the one I bought—I noticed small tears in some of the pieces when I examined it closely. Also, it was just the top. No backing; no binding. I'd need to back and bind it before I could use it. It obviously had never been the pick of the litter. Still, it was a crazy quilt. I'd wanted one forever. I would never make one for myself; I don't possess the patience. Plus it had velvet and silk and funky vintage fabrics. It had butterflies embroidered on it. I wasn't going to let a little wear or the fact that it needed to be finished stop me from possessing it.

This is why, I suspect, I was able to buy it. You can watch some of the pieces disintegrate,
almost in real time. I wonder if they are rayon, which doesn't seem to wear particularly well.

          It is now folded over the footboard of the guest bed. Every time I see it, it makes me so very happy.

Velvet! Silk! Spectacular embroidery!

Butterflies! Music!

Funky vintage fabrics, I love you so much.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Zilpha's Quilt

Elderly, but still loved.

          Sometimes I think of my linen closet as The Home for Geriatric Quilts. My family knows I like quilts, and so, as the old guard goes to that big quilting bee in the sky, leaving their quilts behind, I am presented with those quilts—some of them well-preserved, some of them well-used.

          The one pictured above is an example of the latter. It was made by my great-aunt for my grandfather and grandmother when they married in the early 1930s. When it retired from service covering their bed, it became their beach-picnic quilt. When my grandmother downsized her house in the 90s, it came into my possession—in sad shape. The binding looked like it had been eaten by puppies, and entire patches were gone, and sometimes the batting as well—and the backing was looking more and more theoretical.

          It really wasn't worth saving, but I like old quilts, and it was my grandmother's, and I have a soft spot for lost causes, so I put a new binding on it and undertook to patch it (no small feat), and that gave it another decade of life. At right around the decade mark, our own puppy, feeling a bit bored one day, ate a hole in the center.

          I patched it again, and it has limped along for another three years. Of course, the original fabric continues to deteriorate, and I finally had to give up trying to patch all the holes. The other day, as I snuggled under it for a nap, noticing a couple of new holes, I wondered how much longer it would be before it simply disintegrated. Casey jumped up on the bed and settled at my feet. Both of the dogs love this quilt, too.

          I wondered if I should just face the inevitable bravely and throw it away before it dissolved into a pile of lint, which I might be inclined to keep for sentimental reasons.

          But I love the faded vintage fabrics. I love the random bright pattern that the new patches make. I love that it's too busted-up to worry about trying to keep nice, and so we use it all the time. I love that the dogs love it. I love that the woman who made it was named Zilpha. I love that the naps I take under it are peaceful.

          I love it so much, this faded, battered, pockmarked quilt, that when it eventually does fall apart I will probably collect the pieces and reassemble them on a fresh backing, with new batting—even though I know the futility of trying to rejuvenate fabric this worn-out—just so I can keep on loving it.

A topography of quilt love. 



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Have Yet to Achieve Sufficient Fail

         The logo illustration that I'm working on continues to be a seething mass of fail. I must work some more on it because the seething mass of fail is not enormous enough yet, and requires more hours of my time to sufficiently convey the sheer, staggering quality of fail for this particular project.

          In the meantime, I feel that watching a video of a geyser (Strokkur, in Iceland) geysing on its own geologic schedule is a far better use of your time than listening to me whine.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Turns Out It Would Have Been Easier Just to Write Something

          I have been slaving in the art mines this week, working on the illustration for a logo. It is a long process, and all I've been thinking about are coffee and books (the subjects of the illo). I had zero ideas for a blog post, but I did have a bunch of cute little sketches of coffee cups that weren't right for the logo.

          Aha! I thought. I'll just take a page from Andy Warhol's book, and make a poster of a bunch of coffee cups in different color combinations. Add a little type. Easy schmeasy. Take me maybe an hour or two.

          I failed to remember the Basic Rule of Art, which is this: Art is long; life is short.

          I comped up the poster I'd envisioned, and it was good. But it needed type. And when I found the words I wanted to typeset*, they needed fewer already-finished coffee cup illustrations and more illustrations of books and happiness. Which did not yet exist.

          A word to the wise: quick-and-dirty illustrations of coffee cups turn out very well when you use the Zen Brush app on your iPhone. Happiness illustrations are similarly successful. However, it is a time-consuming challenge to draw a book, with your finger, on your touch-screen, that actually resembles a book. And of course, you must do it this way because you want the illustration style of the book to go with the style of the coffee cups and the happiness.**

         Anyway, the blankety-blank poster that was supposed to be quick and easy and turned out to be neither is finished. I quite like it.



---------------
*Which was not, by the way, the work of a few minutes.
**Before you ask, Zen Brush doesn't make an app for desktop use. I looked.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Checking in With the Bees—The NSA Can Help!

        
The bees were active this weekend.
         
          So K has been doing some reading about how to tell if your hives are overwintering okay without actually opening them up and exposing the bees to cold temperatures and killing them. In the beekeeping community, this is frowned upon as poor sportsmanship, not to mention lousy husbandry.

          It turns out you can put a stethoscope against the hive and listen. Hives that are still alive will hum. K thought this was a pretty keen idea, and was all about looking for a used stethoscope until he came across the article that said what you really need to see how the bees are doing in the winter when you can't open the hive is a thermal imaging camera.

          K showed me the article and the pictures and we agreed a thermal imaging camera would be a cool addition to the beekeeping gear. We also agreed that stethoscopes were way too low-tech for any self-respecting modern beekeeper even to consider.

          "So how much do these thermal imaging cameras cost?" I asked.

          "Oh, a couple thousand dollars," K said offhandedly.

          After an extended silence, I said, "You know, high-tech is kind of overrated. We're talking about bees, after all. The last technical innovation in beekeeping was in 1852 when Reverend Langstroth patented a top-opening, movable-frame hive that the bees couldn't cement shut with propolis. I think that the whole point of beekeeping is for it to be low-tech."

          K did that raised-eyebrow-look thing that he does.

          "Plus it's kind of creepy," I continued. "Spying on bees with thermal imaging cameras. It's stalkerish."

          "That's not really a word," K said.

          I ignored him. "Hey, I just got an idea. I bet the NSA has thermal imaging cameras. And I bet when they're not collecting all our telecoms data, they're out thermal-imaging things."

          "Why on earth would they do that?"

          "Sweetie, the motto of the NSA is whatever the Latin is for, 'Privacy Schmivacy.' If they have thermal imaging cameras—and you know they do; that's Standard-Issue Spy Kit—they are using them."

          K rolled his eyes. "Not on bees."
        
         "Not yet, maybe." I did a quick google ("terrorism keywords") and came up with a list of 300+ words that the government considers as threat flags (not making this up, kids. For the article and list of words, click here.) I chose a few of them and then took out my phone and dialed my dad (our hives are out at his place), putting him on Speaker.

          "Hey Dad," I said when he picked up. "Have you had any standoffs* lately with ecoterrorist gangs of bees wielding biological weapons, leading to a state of emergency?"

          There was a longish pause on Dad's end, and then he replied, cautiously, "Well, there were no biological incidents today. Yesterday, though, there was some exposure to an infrastructure security situation that culminated in a terror attack by a suicide bomber bee. My arm is really swelled up where it stung me."**

          I shot K a smug look. "Give them a couple of days to get a field agent out there and then file a Freedom of Information Act request. You'll have your thermal image without having to pay a dime."

          "You live to take something simple and straightforward and turn it into a byzantine mass of complication, don't you?" he said.

          "Pretty much," I replied.

You don't need thermal imaging technology to tell that this hive is doing very well, thanks.

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*Italicized words in this conversation come directly from the Terrorism Keywords list.
**My dad is a master. Give him a few notes, and he'll vamp up a whole song.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Details

          Recently at breakfast, before I had been fully resurrected by my daily caffeine, K asked me why I'd never used the temporary tattoos he got me for Christmas.*
 
          "Um," I said, my mind full of grey mist, unwilling to admit that I didn't actually remember Christmas.

The kind of Christmas present every gal should get.

          "I got those especially for you," he said. Accusations and recriminations hovered uneasily over the breakfast table.

          It seemed like my safest move at this point was to go dig out the tattoos, apply one, and get back to my coffee before it got cold.

          Two minutes later, I held out my arm to K.

          He squinted at the letters I'd bonded onto my skin. "God js is the details?" he said, puzzled.

          I pulled my arm back and examined it. "Dammit. I thought that 'j' was an italic 'i.' It was backwards on the transfer. It was hard to read."

          K smirked at me. "Apparently the devil is in the details, too."

Spelling-impaired temporary tattoo.
Thank goodness I'm not a real tattoo artist.




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*Yup. We are wild and exciting folk, K and I.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why We Really Have Public Art

Charlemagne and his men. With pigeons.

         I'm a big fan of public art. Don't care if it's awful or mediocre or even outrageously moustached like the example above. Because if it weren't for sculptures in public places, we would all be coated in pigeons, as Charlemagne and his men above were until I approached to take the photo and scared 90 percent of the birds away. Les pigeons, they love perching on things, and I much prefer them perching on things that are not me.

          If there is no art around to perch on, pigeons will happily turn to the next option:

If you stand too still in a sculpture-free public square, pigeons will land on you.

          I actually like pigeons quite a bit. I just feel that being used as a perch is not in keeping with my personal dignity. Not to mention their little pigeon toes can be quite sharp.