Thursday, July 24, 2014

Weapons of Mass Distortion

Brave little teacup.  Sad little teacup.  Silly little teacup.  You thought that jumping out of my bag onto a concrete surface would save you from going in front of the camera again?  Not a CHANCE, buster!

I've never been one to let a bad-luck situation grind me down.  I usually pick up the pieces and re-purpose them.  One thing I've learned in my time on this growing ball of rock is if you dwell on the negative, that's what you get in return...more negative.  I'd rather attract the positive by taking a bad situation and finding the good in it. 

I'm just a ray of sunshine, ain't I?  With altruism like this, I may have to turn in my National Sarcasm Society Membership card...AND the matching tie-tack!

cold, dead hands, anyone?

I've held onto the shattered remains of my teacup for around a month, and finally dug them out of the travel bag to put them to good use.  It's so tough viewing the remains of a deceased loved one.  Not to say I won't eventually toss the chunks the next time I de-clutter, but, really, anything can be interesting when captured in JUUUUUST the right way in front of the camera lens.


Once upon a time, in an apartment far, far away (OK, not that far...only 12 miles, but I'm setting the mood here) I had a comedy/tragedy mask combo hanging on my wall.  Composed of ceramic with a high-gloss glaze, Comedy was white, Tragedy was black.  The two masks were rather austere - no additional decorations, paint, or details - just the bare, shiny faces with empty eye sockets and open mouths.  A trio of twisted ribbons were tied at either side of each face, creating a loop in the back to catch a nail strategically hammered into the wall.  There was extra ribbon on each side left to dangle - the only 'frill' to the pieces.  On the surface, they were pretty standard fare.  I found them hanging from the wall of an antique shop, at a reasonable price, so I adopted them and brought them home.

They were happy little masks, full of positive energy, and brightened up my living space with their contrasting white and black features. 

I have the same weakness for masks (comedy/tragedy, Mardi-Gras, Carnivàle, etc.) that I have for stemware.  Anything unusually embellished, uniquely-shaped, or charged with happy energy catches my eye.  I find glass/ceramic/porcelain/pottery is a good medium for holding ethereal energies, and even if they are never charged by a practitioner of the artes, can retain the artistic vibes given off by their creator within the creative process.

I even went so far as to create some of my own masks back in the day, when I was enduring a 'bout of clay creativity liberally blended with Star Trek Geek-dom.  I made masks with Klingon, Cardassian, and Ferengi features.  Decked out with hair (when appropriate) and painted tattoos, they were quite the stunning collection.  I hope they brighten the rooms of whomever owns them now, as I've lost touch with my creations.

What?  Have you forgotten that I'm slightly to the left of 'normal?'

Well... to return to the story... I have 2 ceramic masks hanging from the wall in an apartment far, far away, complete with dangly ribbon things on either side of the faces.  I also have a cat.  Cats like dangly things.  Mine in particular finds dangly things absolutely irresistible.  Cats have a perverse need to bat at dangly things...although, with my cat, batting at dangly things is why he's breathing and converting food to waste products and fur.  It's his purpose in this life.  Cats also have claws to hook onto the aforementioned dangly things, and sufficient mass to pull them from their secure perch on the wall.  Can everyone do the math, here?

I woke one morning to see the black tragedy mask in pieces on the floor.


Yes, the tragic irony in this little story is thick enough to warrant its own zip code (plus FOUR!)...but everyone knows, if you live with glass things with dangly bits and a cat, broken glass things and slightly-chewed dangly bits are going to appear...C'est la vie

 I put the remains away, intent on some day gluing the pieces back together.  When inspiration hit a few months later, I dug them out to run a series of shots, operating under the assumption that anything can be made interesting when framed in the right perspective.  Some of the shots in that series proved my assumption correct. 

I shared my favorites on Facebook, tucking the series away on a file in my computer, and stowing the physical remains back in their cubby.

Tempus Fugit - time flies - many moons later...

The SQO's band finally had enough music properly performed, mixed and recorded to put out their second album.  We settled, after much debate, on an album title of Regeneration as the best fit for the album, due to the bassist being new, and both him and the SQO being HUGE Dr. Who fans. 

Of course, the debate in this case consisted of a ton of different titles being tossed about by all 4 band mates and my occasional suggestion, and everyone had to agree on the one that fit the best.

Creativity by Committee is sometimes a long, arduous process.

The SQO and I browsed through my files in search of suitable graphics.  The candle/mask series was a natural, as the imagery additionally suggested this rebirth or regeneration, the resilience of not letting a setback stop you, and the emergence of something happy and perfect from the shattered remains of a tragedy. 

Two of the candle/mask series shots ended up as the interior cover and the back cover of the new album.

The shot that made it to the front cover, after I gave the boys in the band 2 dozen different cover configurations to choose from (Creativity by Committee, take II), was 4 cell-phone shots of the guys taken at their first show as this new-lineup - again, the intent behind the image was what sold all the members of the band.  All I had to do for the front cover was put the pieces together with some text to tie it together.

I just want to mention here...the candle/mask series was taken with a cheap little point & shoot camera, and edited with the free photo-editing program offered on Photobucket.  The front cover was taken from the boy's cell phones - which also don't have the greatest resolution or megapixels.  Just to be clear, here - you don't need a bunch of expensive stuff to capture images and turn them into a fantastic project - all you need is determination, drive, and vision.

So the next time that someone tries to sell you some expensive lens, or you run out to have the 'latest and greatest' DSLR body to take FANTASTIC pictures - remember - the gear only captures the images...your inner creative visions are what make them great.

And what happened to the Tragedy Mask?  He now has company - the Teacup has moved in with him.  Someday, perhaps, the glue will join the party.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Strange, that I would have a blog post with such a chill-inducing title in the middle of one of the two hottest months of the year - but I have my reasons.

We have two of the oddest methods for raising money in this state - called the Polar Bear Plunge and Freezin' for a Reason. 

I still hear of these events, and immediately think - These guys are nuts!

The two charity drives are legendary, annual events in Wisconsin.  Both have ordinary people (ordinary....but not exactly SANE) jumping into large bodies of water in the middle of winter...without an impending threat of bodily harm if they don't comply.

Yup...I said it - they do this voluntarily, and ON PURPOSE! 

It's a mad attempt to convince the people in this state with money AND sense to donate generously to the cause of the jumpee's choice. 

The scary part - it works.

The leap is traditionally accompanied by a crowd of well-wishers cheering on the participants while bundled up to the eyebrows and sipping steaming cups of hot chocolate liberally laced with alcohol and marshmallows. 

And cookies. 

As an aside, here - there is always an appearance of something baked and sweet anytime there are more than 4 people gathered together up here.  Cookies.  Cakes.  Sweet Breads.  Muffins.  Donuts.  Bagels stuffed and/or topped with fruits and/or sweet goo.  We do them all.   We take our pastries seriously in this state.

 I can handle an obsession with bakery goods (the proof is in my waistband) but the whole jumping into Lake Michigan in the dead of winter in Wisconsin?  I don't think I've ever been THAT bored - even when the winchill drops to negative double digits and I'm terrified of freezing to the sidewalk.

I'd rather make a dozen chocolate, chocolate covered raspberry cheesecakes with burnt-sugar glaze and chocolate chips.  From scratch.

There's a new 'thing' making its way across the interwebz - the Ice Water Challenge.  Just another way for someone to do something mildly foolish in front of a camera all in the name of a good cause.  This challenge is simple:  Video record someone pouring a bucket of ice water over your head and plaster it all over the social 'net. 

Like all charitable challenges - there's a request for any and all who see the show to donate generously to the cause of the soon-to-be iced person's choice.

This one ends with callouts - you get to name five of your friends (seriously...I like to think I treat my freinds better than this...) to repeat said challenge in the name of THEIR favorite charity.

And thus is born the newest orgy of 'Hey, look at me doing something not too bright!' videos posted on social forums across the globe. 

Some people get quite creative in their dousing.  I saw a guy yell out "Go Big, or Go Home," before loading a large skid mover's bucket with the required ice and water.  He got REAL wet.

A bunch of firemen used a fire hose (no ice, but that's a LOT of water pressure!)

One guy lined the back of his pickup truck with plastic sheeting, filled with ice water, and belly-flopped in.

And, of course, you've got the random costumed dunkers - Batman, Ironman, Spiderman, Superman.  You'll notice, there are no superWOMEN doing this...our superpowers must be brains.

present company excluded, of course...

I laughed when this one guy got three buckets dumped on him - the third aimed square at the crotch. (I'll say again...friends like this...) He started pulling his clothing away from his body yelling 'Oh shit!' Deliberately pulled the waistband of his shorts and pointedly looked down still yelling "oh, Shit!"

You know what they say about cold water and men, right?

Well, now that we have the backstory, details, and research laid out - you can guess where this is going, right?  I got called out.  I guess I need a new circle of friends.

I really, REALLY wanted to ignore the whole thing, as the only thing making anyone do this is pure and simple peer pressure - and just get on with more important things in my life, like photography and 'shop and the great teacup replacement adventure, but then I had a thought: 

The still shots of a large volume of water and ice being flung could be something worth capturing on the camera. 

Proving once again that I'm more than just a bit weird, more than just a bit obsessed with water and my camera, and that I REALLY need to learn to ignore thoughts like these.

Soooo - 5 gallon container - check.  Off to the local Walmart I went, and I can use the container afterwards to store stuff, or donate to Goodwill if I'm feeling the need to de-clutter.

Ice cubes - check.  I don't feel the need to keep 50 or so trays of frozen water in my little freezer, but ice is easy to procure in this country.  a 5# bag of frozen, semi-uniform cubes is under $2.  Consumerism at it's finest!

Cronies - check.  I can't run the video, the still-cam and fling water at myself BY myself, unless I've got a couple of clones handy or have suddenly developed telekinesis.  (In case you're wondering, the answer is 'no' on both...)  Lucky for me, my son, DIL(2B) and SQO were available and willing to help.  Strange, the amount of perverse pleasure they enjoyed at the idea - but I'll ruminate over that later...

Set up was easy - give the video to my DIL(2B), give the bucket to the SQO, set up the still cam on the tripod and set to sport mode (just push down the button and WHAPWHAPWHAPWHAP - the shutter will continue to fire off until you let up on the button) and yea...let's do this.

That'll teach me to get on the wrong end of my camera lens.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summertime, summertime, sum sum sum SUMMERTIME

Ahhh - what better way to enjoy summer than with an icy cold, sweet and bite-y frozen adult beverage?  Complete with all the trimmings.

As the teacup is a shattered mess, and the teapot is, at this very moment, cowering in a darkened corner wracked with martini glass has bravely stepped up to the plate to star in this next blog post.

This was another Goodwill find - there is a slight chip on the edge, but I couldn't let that deter me from snagging this beauty.  I only found out after it made its way home with me that this martini glass was a promotional piece for Grey Goose Vodka - and prices range from 10-15 bucks on eBay to $200 for a set of 2 on Amazon.  Crazy what people will pay for something deemed 'collectable.'  I think I spent two bucks on mine.

Never one to leave a surface plain when I'm in artistic mode, I dug through the net for a bit of learning, got some supplies, and dressed the glass up by etching a pattern into the bowl.  I think the crazy branches go well with the pewter vine stem.  Unfortunately, with all the cold, sweet, lemony stuff currently occupying the bowl, you can't see the etching. I'll have to show off the etch work when I'm finished with my treat.

This is a strange summer for Wisconsin.  Usually by this time, we've all closed our windows and doors, cranked the A/C, and are bitterly complaining about the heat and humidity.  Traditionally, we have high 80's moving in to low 90's, and the humidity is so heavy you can practically backstroke in the air.  Then the heat wave comes, we reach triple digits, and start reminiscing about how wonderful winter is with -30 windchill. 

"Oh, what I wouldn't do for a cold breeze right now!" murmurs a portly woman industriously fanning her florid flesh with a copy of Vogue.  "Its hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk!"

And, yes...this happens pretty much every year.  Someone goes out and cracks an egg on the sidewalk, the road, the roof, the hood of someone's car, etc., and watches the poor embryonic chicken sizzle to its doom.  Sometimes, there are toast points involved.

                               Mmmmm...toast points.

But this summer has been fabulous.  We've had maybe one day of higher humidity, but it hasn't been all that hot.  The weatherman will tell us it's because of having such a long and cold winter that lake Michigan froze soooooooo deep and is still soooooooooo cold, it's having an effect on the temperatures.  Well, I can attest to the water of lake Michigan being REAL cold, as I found out when I dipped my toes in on the 13th...but I'd say, just like all weather predictions, he's got a 50% chance of being right on the reason behind our wonderful summer.

We're made it through the 4th of July Holiday weekend - America's independence day.  How do we celebrate this auspicious event?  Like every major holiday in this country, it's gone commercial.  We go to a carnival, consume WAY too many foods that are freakishly bad for us (ahem...deep fried Snicker's, anyone?), drink a lot of overpriced alcohol, get on metal contraptions that spin us 'till we're dizzy enough to puke (after the booze and the deep-fried candy bars, this is probably a good thing, in retrospect) and spend a ton of money we may or may not have in reserve on cheap junk or cheaper entertainment.

Oh...and for the finale of this holiday...we blow stuff up!!!!  

                      Can you tell I like this part?

I got 'volunteered' into more photo projects.  I happened to tell the guy who runs the Wisconsin Vapers Group on Facebook that the artwork on the SQO's band page was all my work.  His eyes lit up, he started to pant (well, it COULD have been the hot sun we were sitting in), and I believe I saw a bit of drool...  I knew I'd just announced an exploitable talent - and that I'd just volunteered for several favors.   Yea...I'm a sucker - but making Facebook banners is FUN.

A little aside on the whole 'vapers' thing - I am one.  I have been for better than 5 years.  By vaper, I mean I consume nicotine, not by igniting a carbon-based leaf product on fire and inhaling the results of that combustion into my lungs, but by using an electronic gizmo called a Personal Vaporizer (PV).  You may have heard them mentioned in the news by a different name:  they're called E-cigarettes, E-cigs, ENDS, E-hookahs, E-pipes, E-pens, vape pens, and just about any other E-name someone with half a brain could come up with.

They're really a neat idea - which, of course, sets a lot of tongues wagging and got a lot of busy-bodies all up in'd think we were running naked in the streets from the overblown reactions!  I'm going to stay away from the politics surrounding my little gizmo, however, because I promised myself I would NOT get political in this blog.

So let's get back to the blowing stuff up bit.  Firework displays are set off in pretty much every town in Wisconsin around the 4th.  Yes, there are some tiny towns who gang together to throw their celebrations, but we've got cars and everything - even in the middle of nowhere - so nobody misses out on their chance to watch the skies light up with multi-colored balls of fire and sparks.

It is very 'Murican! to blow stuff up.

I've seen good displays, I've seen bad ones.  My favorite had to be when I was a teen - they floated a barge out in the middle of Clear Lake in Iowa, and shot the fireworks off that!  Imagine thousands of people gathered on the shorelines, some with small fires on private property to keep them nasty mosquitoes away, some on the boat launches in the sodium-lights, some on bridges, some in the lake park - the lake was surrounded by humans - most of them with some source of illumination.  Imagine further, if you will, boats on the water, their dim running lights a thousand additional points of light glimmering in the still water.  Then the stately barge (ok, I'm waxing poetic, here, by calling it stately...) chugging it's way to the middle of the lake.  Watching the other boaters open a path and then close ranks behind the barge was a show in itself, with the promise of more to come...

There is NOTHING to compare to being on a boat in the middle of a darkened lake watching fireworks in the sky mirrored in the water.  It was a light show like no other!

I always flinch, now, BEFORE I hear the boom of the firework exploding, because being close enough to see the barge meant we were directly UNDER the pyrotechnic, and thus the sound wave reached us FAST.  Standing on solid ground, in a crowd, with the technicians a couple of hundred yards away is safer, yes, but somehow less satisfying.

I've watched the Rhythm and Booms show in Madison a couple of times (they're a national group who go all across the country) which is timed to music, but it still isn't as phenomenal as those small-town, lake country displays ON the lake...which I will probably never see again.

In the wake of our country's almost fanatical drive to protect the idiots from themselves, we've attempted to sterilize every aspect of life in this country that 'could' conceivably hurt someone, so I'm certain that the firework display on the lake has been deemed too dangerous to spectators, and moved to a safer locale.  A shame, if you ask me, to see the display go the way of the dinosaur.

My worst firework show had to have been one of the last ones I watched in Watertown.  Not because the pyrotechnics were bad, but because of the accident.  One of the mortars exploded in the canister, on the ground.  It was an ugly ball of light, not pretty and spread out across the sky.  The crowd saw the light first, then heard/felt the shockwave, then felt the wash of heat from the explosion.

When you blow stuff up, even when you're a professional pyromaniac, sometimes accidents happen.

After the blast, the show was momentarily stalled as the technicians rechecked their setup, before resuming the dazzling light show for the crowd's consumption.

I wonder how many other people will recant this story to their children, their friends, their families, as they watch the rocket's red glare and the bombs bursting in air to celebrate the country's liberation from an oppressive government?

Happy Birthday, America!