Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Alzirr7: Dude! It's 2010!

Alzirr4: Already?!?!?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Small (Really Small) Victories

My Blog Wrangler, Susan, is often a lone voice muttering "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more" as she waits patiently on hold. If you were around in 1976 that quote may sound familiar. Check out YouTube clips (click here for one) of Albert Finney's Academy Award winning performance in the movie Network. Very eerie. His rant is just as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago.

Example 1
Our AT&T Bill, for service from Dec 5, 2009 thru Jan 4, 2010, showed a new higher rate - by $2. Susan read the fine print: "... new rates will become effective no earlier than Jan 7, 2010". After over 15 minutes on hold to get to a real human, she politely (yes, politely) questioned why the increase showed up a month early. The representative put her on hold for another 5 minutes to
"research the item in question on your current bill."

The end result was that yes, the $2 increase will go into effect next month but because of the "billing error" we will receive a $5 credit on our next bill. Sweet!

But the questions she didn't ask AT&T were:
We have a plain, ordinary account. How many other ordinary customers did you slap that $2 charge on and they didn't question it?
How much money billed in error are you making from customers who didn't notice it was incorrectly assessed?

Example 2
Time Warner Cable's bill for service from Dec 12, 2009 through Jan 15, 2010 showed the usual rate for Standard (not the new "turbo") internet service. But last month's bill included a very small print "Service Pricing" page with "Rates effective 12/01/09". That page indicated the Standard internet service would drop by $5 a month, probably due to the fact that AT&T U-verse, DSL and Clear are currently waging strong ad campaigns to snare us in as customers. So why didn't our our rate drop?

This phone call included only 3 minutes on hold, AFTER being disconnected 7 separate times when following the voice prompts for "Question about your bill?". Finally, Susan was polite as the Representative told her only "new matrix" customers were being given the lower rate, all other "old matrix" customers would retain their original rate.

Susan: But you changed my Standard Cable TV rate up. Why can't you change my Standard Internet rate down at the same time?
Representative: You are on the "old matrix" and we don't do it that way.
Susan: Yes you can. You sent me a Service Pricing announcement of rates effective 12/01/09 and it doesn't say anything about old and new matrix and if you changed my TV matrix you can also change me to the lower Internet rate as shown on that new Service Pricing announcement.
Representative: OK. And I'll give you a credit for this month also.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What's What

What will be for dinner on December 24th: Gumbo with extra shrimp and sausage, served over rice, Chocolate Lava Cakes, Champagne.

What I'll watch again, amazed by the stunning cinematography: Mongol.

What I'm reading: The King of Lies by John Hart.(I also thought his The Last Child and Down River were great).

What is a new bad habit: Ginger Chocolate bars.

What I'm drinking too often: Bacardi Limon.
In my defense, truth-in-labeling reveals this important nutritional information about each drink I sip:
Fat -- 0g
Cholesterol -- 0mg
The Protein data (0g) can be ignored, as I'll get all the protein I need from the smoked almonds I munch as I sip.

What I'm working on: A new Big Head

What I would like for all of us to have this holiday season: Peace on Earth. On second thought, that sounds sort of hokey, like what beauty contestants always say they want. So I'll just lower my expectations to: Bring home all the men and women serving in our armed forces. Alive.

Happy Holiday wishes to all of you, everywhere, connected to me as if by magic.

Monday, December 21, 2009


We celebrated the holiday season early with Susan's sister, Linda, and her husband, C.A, and exchanged gifts. Frosty was one of my gifts to Linda. He stands just about 5" tall. A few months ago Linda saw a picture I had saved of a baby penguin and remarked that he would make a great ceramic piece. So I gave it a try, was pretty pleased with my effort and she was happy to take him home with her.

If you live on the east coast and are shivering under all that load of snow you received, just remember that Frosty is thinking of you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Button Eyes

My "dudes" have different eyes that I like to make with objects I've found or made. Not long ago I was in Houston for the International Quilt Festival and I wandered through all the vendors' displays (more than 700!), looking for stuff that I could use. I found these buttons and plan to figure out how to make a mold of them so I can use them for eye marks or other types of texture marks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


It's almost time for Tuba Christmas - Monday!!! Go here to find out if you've missed out on a great season treat. Susan is pretending she won't go but she will, if only to play with her camera. Unless it's bad weather. She's a fair-weather tuba fan only. Me, I'll be there, rain or shine. Gotta support those lonely tuba players.

Click here for last year's report. And below is a series of clips someone put together in a previous year. The fun part is all the kids from school bands that they bring in. The guys in the picture near the end aren't cowboys, they are Texas State Troopers, responsible for security at our State Capitol, where Tuba Christmas always is.

Monday, December 14, 2009


This is the time of year when many people have Advent calendars as a countdown of days.

Susan had a different idea. It is hanging in a very prominent place. I am not amused.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cool or Not Cool

At times I have doubts. So I read over what Sol LeWitt wrote in a letter to Eva Hesse:

"Don't worry about cool, make your own uncool . . .

He had a lot more to say to her about listening to your own inner critic. Do a Google search (here) to see the full text, uncensored, on many websites/blogs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What I Did On My Vacation, Part 3 (The End)

Thursday (Thanksgiving Day)

We were disappointed that they were rearranging a large section of their permanent collection so there wasn't much to see. But one of my favorites, Rene Magritte's Delusions of Grandeur, was displayed (above). A special exhibit of Anne Truitt's work (below) had me flummoxed. I just don't get it, even though we watched a long video of her talking about her work.

Here I got to see again my favorite Philip Guston paintings (one shown below).
There was a special collection called Editions with Additions: Working Proofs by Jasper Johns, where you got to see proofs he worked on after printing them. I thought artists never added other media onto prints they made but If Johns can do it, so can I. If I ever made a print.

There was also a specially selected group of contemporary works grouped according to a theme, like Drip, Concentricity, Gesture, etc. The juxtaposition of styles and media was very creative and we saw a number of great pieces we'd never seen before.

Then we had fun riding the people-mover backwards and forwards several times to see (and be in) the light sculpture, Multiverse, by Leo Villareal. In the video below you are moving backwards from the East Wing to the Cascade Cafe in the West Wing for your Thanksgiving dinner. Commentary provided by several anonymous teenagers.

Who was eating their holiday dinner in the cafe at 3 in the afternoon? Families, grandparents,parents, teenagers, children, and babies in strollers. Dressed up fancy and dressed down casual. It wasn't very crowded at all and everyone seemed happy and relaxed. I thanked the server who plopped the turkey and all the fixings on my plate and she blushed.

We still wonder "Who are all these people in this museum?" and often watch the middle-age kids who don't seem to pay attention to anything as they fool around. Somehow, as if by magic, the art must imprint in their hyperactive little brains and then they grow up to be....? I'd like to say we spent an equal amount of time in the West Wing but instead we headed back to the hotel, thankful for a late nap. Being a tourist is hard work.


1) A walk past the White House again, just in time to see the public White House Christmas tree being delivered on a horse-drawn wagon. Naturally, security was strict, everyone was moved two blocks away from the White House and the sniffer dogs were out and moving around. We waited a bit but the occupants of the White House didn't seem to be answering their doorbell so the wagon and driver were just sitting there. The sun was finally shining, everyone was happy to be there and Mr. IronPumper knew exactly where the tree was going. If you look fast you'll see a glimpse of me walking past.

2) The Renwick Gallery.
A small museum devoted to American craft -- there is always something interesting here and they do a good job of rotating their permanent collection pieces. A new acquisition was on display: Karen LaMonte, Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery (shown below). This beautiful life-size dress figure is made of cast glass and is so large it has to cool for over 40 hours after being fired. It is an amazing piece and it is completely incomprehensible to me that someone could be so skillful in creating it. Out of glass.

3) The National Museum of Women in the Arts
On this trip we voted this museum's special exhibitions our trip favorites. We saw Lands of Enchantment: Australian Aboriginal Paintings. We saw Hard Copy: Books as Art. We saw Telling Secrets: Codes, Captions, and Conundrums in Contemporary Art.

Susan, who will talk to anyone, dead or alive, chatted to a docent, Ed Williams, who wound up giving us a special private tour of his favorite paintings, including one by Joan Mitchell that he and his family had helped fund restoration for. Joan Mitchell had an incredible eye for color and we were lucky enough to see a special show of her work a few years ago. The image below is not the painting at the museum but is similar in style.

Then Ed scrounged up some keys and unlocked the library just for Susan to see a display of Books as Art from their permanent collection. Thank you, Ed!!!

I'd like to give you some images but of course there is no photography allowed in most special exhibits, only in permanent collections. Usually my Blog Wrangler pulls and identifies images from a museum's website to give you some samples of their art but unfortunately this museum's website had only very poor images.

We spent so much time here we never made it to the National Building Museum.

And that, patient blog readers, is what we do on a vacation: museums, museums, museums. And more museums. Museums from 10 in the morning until 5 or 6 at night. Lunch in museum cafes. We always say "Next time... " when we don't manage to see everything in a museum so there is always something to look forward to on the next visit.

Why are so many of the museums in Washington DC part of the "Smithsonian"? Because the founder, James Smithson, donated a huge chunk of money in the 1800's to establish and institution for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge." The main website gives you links to these museums and most of them have lots of images and information. Go here and you'll find a lot of art-related information and the option MyCollection lets you create your own "scrapbook" of images. Mr. Smithson was British and he never even visited the United States. Thank you, Mr. Smithson. we'll be back next year, as nearly every Smithsonian and National museum in Washington DC is open on Thanksgiving Day.

P.S. Graffiti Man was spotted 3 times on this trip, each time within 3 blocks of the White House. American Airlines didn't lose our luggage because we didn't check luggage. Mike at the Hilton Garden Inn had a smile for us every day. The DC Metro is a true blessing. The weather was cloudy, gray, drizzly and windy except for a few hours of sun on Friday. Amazingly, the TV weatherpeople in DC get their forecasts as screwed-up as they do in Austin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What I Did On My Vacation, Part 2


1) The Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
Zero. Nada. Again, no chance to see our stimulus
money being printed because we weren't in line early enough to get one of the tickets. This time we were within about 20 people of making it in but as they say, "You snooze, you lose."

2) The U.S. Botanical Gardens.
Special holiday decorating was being set up so there were few visitors and very quiet and calm. We almost passed by the four reindeer (above) that had already been positioned. Benches were strategically placed all around so you could relax and look at the plants as you listened to the croaking frog sound effects.
Susan thought the Cat's Whiskers (above) was an interesting plant and thought I was kidding -- I wasn't -- when I told her this plant (below) was called "Hairy Balls".

3) The National Museum of the American Indian.
Saw a great exhibit by Brian Jungen. He makes sculptures by deconstructing ordinary, mundane items. I loved his totem poles made from golf bags and the figure he made from baseball gloves.

The rest of the museum was not very impressive as it seemed to be designed by a committee of people trying to be everything to everyone at once, with the end result being so confusing you just gave up trying to look at it. Their cafe was interesting because they divide the areas up into regions of the Americas and you can get food derived from each region. We skipped the rabbit pot pie and the buffalo burgers from The Plains, I focused on seafood from the Northwest and Susan went with the South/Central American area as it meant she could have a chocolate dessert.

Eating food at the American Indian Museum on the day before Thanksgiving? How much more "American" can you get?

4) National Air and Space Museum.
It was late in the day so the crowds had thinned out but by then I was pretty tired and sort of sleepwalked through a section on World War I that Susan said was interesting. A replica of the U-2 spy plane the Russians shot down during the Cold War caught my attention - it was hanging from the ceiling and was surprisingly small.

This was the first time in several visits to DC that we actually got into this museum. Usually it is jammed with kids on field trips and we don't even bother. Same with the Natural History Museum ("Dinosaur Museum"), where we accidentally went on a rainy day back in April. There were about 7,000 yellow school buses parked in front but we said to each other "How bad could it be?" and went in. Have you ever seen 7 girls, all about age 10, all trying to chest-bump each other at the same time in one big mass? Screaming the whole time? Actually, every kid in the museum was screaming and yelling (while racing frantically back and forth between displays) and my hearing was shot by then, not to return until later that afternoon. Kids in that museum made rock concerts sound like whispers.

A holiday week still means work for a lot of people and this guy working on the streets at the National Mall was no exception. We caught him fooling around while they were setting up the cones and (with encouragement from his co-workers) got him to repeat his performance.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What I Did On My Vacation, Part 1

1) The National Museum of African Art.
This little museum, hidden underground, does a good job of displaying their African sculpture pieces from the Walt Disney-Tishman collection. We always go to this museum first. This time there was a special exhibit by Yinka Shonibare, MBE, (image above) with a beautiful film he made, "Un Ballo in Maschera" (image below) that was so mesmerizing we stopped by a second day to watch it again. A second film, Odile & Odette, had an ironic side note (click here).

2) The National Museum of American History.
Here Susan found the Julia Child kitchen exhibit and an unexpected exhibit called Picturing Words, the Power of Book Illustration (image below).We wandered into a section on transportation called America on the Move and had to hurry out at closing time before we finshed seeing all of it. That's the magic of museums that provide good explanations on their display signs -- you think you aren't interested in the subject but you stop to casually glance at the sign and an hour later you are still in the exhibit.

1) The Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
Zero. Zip. Nada. No chance to see our stimulus money being printed because we weren't in line early enough to get one of the tickets.

2) The Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery.
We've seen a lot of their premanent collection already but made a special attempt this time to find the Civil War soldier graffiti that was scratched in the wood near a window - found it! Very hidden but we knew to ask about it (3 different people before we got the directions) because on the flight up Susan sat next to a woman who worked for the Smithsonian and told her about it. A special retrospective exhibit of William T. Wiley's work (image below) was featured but I wasn't very impressed with his art. Sorry, William.

3) Walked around the White House to see the special tent (huge, looked like a white greenhouse) set up for the State Dinner and Michelle's garden. Took family pictures for a Nigerian group ... who had just moved to Texas. Heard lots of different languages, saw lots of happy tourists and the public Christmas tree (undecorated).

4) Took the Metro to the National Geographic Museum and saw (again) Terra Cotta Warriors. The display of the pieces was not as good as in the show we saw in Houston but the signs and explanations were much better. And each ticket was $10 cheaper. Had a long walk (instead of Metro) back to the hotel because some idiot parked a van in the middle of a street and then threw a Molotov cocktail in the street and ran away. Naturally, the bomb squad had to shut down that street and the nearby Metro stop to do some tense searching of the van. Fortunately, it was nothing but an idiot, but since we were just 4 blocks from the White House it caused a lot of delay. DC'ers seemed to take it all in stride.

More to come. I've thrown a lot of links and information at you but it won't be included on the final exam.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dark Man

Dark Man was sold at the Austin Community College Art Students' sale (where I did quite well, thank you). He didn't go for a while, probably because he sat there so quiently, not speaking to anyone. Then, on the second day, Linda spotted him and saw the magic in him and he became hers. At first I wasn't sure I liked him but he's the sort of piece that just grows on you and you realize after he's gone that he had a real presence. Linda emailed me that she's really happy about having him and that makes me feel better.

More about Washington DC to come, as soon as my Blog Wrangler downloads her pictures.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Book of Wings, Anselm Kiefer

(detail, Kiefer)

Cornwall Summer Circle (Cornish slate), Richard Long

(detail) Sean Scully

(detail) Sean Scully

Male Head IV, (detail) David Bates

The special exhibit featured Susan Rothenberg. Go here for more about her.

Finally, in the outdoor sculpture gardens I ponder Henry Moore's work.

Our trip to Washington DC included Fort Worth because we flew out of Dallas-Fort Worth airport. We'd like to think Austin is the center of the universe but in reality it is not smooth traveling to get out of Austin. Often it is easier for us to drive 3-4 hours to Dallas or Houston and fly out of those cities on a non-stop flight, rather than having to mess with unpredictable connections between Austin and where we really want to go. For this trip we were very happy to make a stop at one of our favorite Texas museums.