Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Death by Bouncy Ball

Just to clarify - I took this picture with my eyes closed...

"I swear, I didn't think THAT would happen!!!"

Yea, famous last words, usually intoned with a degree of awe, shock, and slurred due to the heavy drinking done beforehand.

A variation of the first utterance would be "Whoa...whodathunkit???" depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the length of time it took to consume it, the body-weight of the consumer and the amount of resistance they've built up over years of soaking their brain cells in beer.

If coma-by-beer is imminent, you may hear 'Whooooh!  YEA!" along with a string of four-letter words interspersed by sounds that don't correspond to any known language.

Did I mention that Wisconsin takes its beer as seriously (if not more so) than its baked goods? 

Wisconsin was home to Miller, Old Milwaukee, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers once upon a time.
We've got micro-breweries in half our cities.

We've a lot of small towns in this state that can only be pronounced when the tongue is slightly anesthetized, lest you risk biting said muscle when trying to twist it into the proper contortion to pronounce  Oconomowoc, Manatowoc, Waukesha, Menomonie Falls, Sheboygan and Mukwonago.

Our pro-baseball team is called the Brewers, and they play at Miller Park (renamed for a HUGE pile of money when they rebuilt the stadium).

Another good (or bad, you decide...) alcohol-induced distinction Wisconsin held for years was the town of Watertown.  For decades, this little town, population 20k-ish, had 'more bars per capita than any other city in the world.'  I lived in Watertown for many years, and can confirm the title's accuracy.  Even today, you can't go more than 2 blocks in any given direction without finding a drinking establishment in front of you.

Safe to say, Wisconsinites are steeped in barley and hops from before we're born to after we've been put in the ground.  You can hear the livers within the state collectively pickling on any given warm summer night after the bars close... but you have to really listen.

shhhhh...hear that?

The University of Wisconsin/Madison (UWM) was known for years as THE party campus in the US before some puritan college administrator got a wild hair up their ass and started demanding muscle to tamp down the shenanigans.  I think it had something to do with proximity to the Capital Square, a bare mile east of, and a straight shot up State Street, away, and some busybody worrying about the 'public face' of higher education in the state.

Or maybe, they got drunk, and took a vow whilst dealing with the 'morning after' hangover.

I hate when that happens...

Yes, I realize that at any college in the States, you will find, on any given Friday or Saturday night, a kegger party or two (dozen) as very-young adults, on their own for the first time in their lives,  make the same bad decisions their parents did at the same age, and learn all about the consequences of those decisions.  Sometimes, dubious herbal substances make appearances at these same gatherings.

"higher" education at it's finest...  

At UWM - they didn't limit themselves to Friday and/or Saturday night.  Keggers on campus were every hour, on the hour, 24/7/365, excluding summers where everyone went home to drink.  You could set your watch by the sound of a new keg being tapped.

Well, a long time ago, on a campus far, far away (spacial/relative proximity irrelevant in story mode) there was a battle against those who frowned on hops, and those who celebrated the cold, gold, carbonated beverage-of-the-gods.  They were called the Dry's, and the Wet's.

After years of vicious fighting, in which much beer was spilled, many tongues (and fingers) wagged furiously, many mind-altering substances tried and celebrated, and far too much moral outrage exhibited, the Wet's and the Dry's came to an uneasy settlement which caused the cessation of hostilities.

The daylight hours were dedicated to study and education.  The nighttime hours were for recreational substances...and never the twain shall meet.

In Wisconsin - beer IS a solution
                                 (this tagline brought to you by the Chemistry Department at UWM)

Every college campus has a street or avenue or park 'dedicated' to the college after-class scene - where the young-adults gather for social purposes.  In Madison, this is State Street - the mile-long stretch of road linking the university campus to the Capital Square.  It's filled with little shops offering food, drinks, snacks, books, religious icons (big or small, we offer 'em all...), decadent desserts, clothing, recreational glassware, and oddball boutique-y/artsy items unique to denizens who congregate nightly. 

There are no 'chain' stores on State Street...the vibe is very intimate.  Very organic.  Very REAL.  The entire stretch is steeped in a Bohemian energy generated when people withOUT wealth have to use their creativity and imaginations to entertain themselves, instead of buying their entertainment pre-packaged and mass-produced to create income streams for the few who can buy into the system.  
I had the opportunity to walk the length and breadth of State the last weekend in September, to feel this intense vibe personally... properly chaperoned by two who have adopted (or is that the other way around?) the location.  I have to say - that vibe alone is intoxicating... no beer necessary.

Oooooo - what you said!!!

I can't wait to go back, armed with more than my little iPod for a camera, to attempt to capture the flavor of this little pocket of free-spirit energy.  As a whole, we humans really need to cherish these pockets, and figure out how to make them grow withOUT exploiting them for their 'income potential.'

But for now - I'll share the few photos I did manage to take with the iPod that are acceptable to the photographer within me.

I found this dragon-ship in a rock shop. 
Does anyone else see the humor in the term 'Rock Shop?' or is it just me?

This particular rock is a boat, carved from a single piece of jade.  Only the $400 price tag kept me from immediately adopting this ship to sail home with me.

Sadly, carving things out of rock are not part of my creativity package - I just have to be happy with looking, drooling, and photographing.


Another jade carving in the rock shop - a TEA set.  How could I NOT snap a photo of this one??

I may be back to the rock shop to capture more images of this one, and incorporate them into the blog.  Stay tuned!

Here would be the resident water feature on the square.  I've found 'wealth' delights in adding artistic water pieces any time they want to impress the masses.  Any time I find such an object, I make it a habit to introduce myself to the water spirits of the place.  So, I played with the water for a bit - shook hands with the resident spirit, as it were - and snapped a couple of quickies after thanking the water for contributing to the vibration of the area.

I WANTED to capture the Capital dome backlit by the sunset, but the scene wouldn't cooperate with me - the angles were wrong no matter where I stopped to frame the shot.  This was the best shot I could get of the dome and one of the statues lining the square.

Someone parked a few circus wagons at the junction of State Street and the Square - this one was one of my favorites with the heavy gilding making the carved figures pop against the rich blue wood.
My kids took me to this little, hole-in-the-wall pizza place for a respite against all the walking we were doing.  This place sold pizza by the slice.  Not impressive-sounding?  The slices were HUGE.  They hung off the edges of a regular dinner plate.  I couldn't finish my single slice of Ham and Pineapple.
And the toppings?  More varieties than I could count. 

I captured myself in this shot - I'm in the left (appropriate, no?) corner of the mirror.


I love to decorate with light - so did some of the shops on State Street.  These 2 pictures show one window-decoration where the shop-owners showed off some of their very-impressive light fixtures. 

I really, really, REALLY want this one!!!!

I love the mix of old-world and high-tech blended together around the Capital square.  You can see this mix all up and down State Street.

Part of what makes this particular photo 'work' is the mix: it's both over- and under-exposed in the same shot.  I actually stood in the middle of a side street to capture this one - with the kids watching for cars coming up behind me.  I had JUST enough time to frame, shoot, and move out of the way of the car racing to catch the green light.

"But wait!" you cry, angered at your computer screen. 



I bought one recently, when visiting a little hot-dog shack with my youngest son.  He originally snorted and rolled his eyes in true teen fashion, disbelief radiating from every pore that his MOTHER would go to such lengths to embarrass him by purchasing a toy crafted for children - not the young-adult he's aspiring to be.

Once we got through the posturing, the teen image maintained and the illusion strengthened, we bounced the thing back and forth in the parking lot - enjoying ourselves with this simple sphere of rubber.  The amusement was had for the bargain-price of three quarters fed to a glass and aluminum machine and a simple twist of a handle.

The ant, unfortunately, suffered a painful and rather surprising end as the ball crushed him to a tiny moist spot on the pavement.


This has been another 'slightly to the Left of Reality' brain wandering...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"They" Suggest...

Who is this 'They,' anyways?

"They" tell you that sugar is bad for you.  
"They" tell you that tobacco will kill you.
"They" tell you that you must brush your teeth 3 minutes 2 times a day.
"They" tell you that taxes are good.
"They" tell you that illegal drugs are bad.
"They" tell you that (insert something here) ad nauseam ad infinitum.

"They" tell you not to think for yourself.

Personally, I think "They" should live their own lives, and stop telling 'Them' how to live theirs.


"They" say that to get your blog read, you must have 
                                1) followers and 
                                2) regularly scheduled content. 

Well, duh. 

I guess one of "They's" public guises has to be the ever-so-quirky and much-quoted Mr. Obvious.  Without followers, a blog has about as much chance of being read as discovering the secrets of the universe in the symbol used by a long-dead hunter in the Amazonian river basin used to keep track of his stores of anaconda piss.

Useful stuff, anaconda piss.  "They" say it can cure cancer, but only if aged to perfection.

I think I'll pass...thanks.

"They" also suggest ways to get those followers that have little to do with actually connecting with people who will regularly read your blog, and everything to do with directing more attention "Their" way.  I actually found a guy selling his 'blog coach' services the other day.

ad content may be slightly modified...

One of the double-edged swords of the wider Anonymous Web is anyone can manufacture 'expert' status with enough chutzpah, clever typing skills, and a passing affinity for Google-fu.  Having the anonymity of instantaneous electronic communication allows the worst trolls, wackos and attention-whores to successfully masquerade as an expert in just about anything. 

And even if you DO find a genuine expert in a subject which interests you, they've so successfully removed themselves from the bulk of humanity to focus on that subject that they oftentimes suffer from extreme tunnel-vision, and are worse than the aforementioned trolls, wackos, and attention-whores.

"They" tell you to pay no attention to the person typing out this blog...she's a Satanic thinker, for God's Sake!

"They" are right about the regularly scheduled content thing, though.  From my own personal experience, if I don't see frequent new material on the  blogs on my follow list, they fall to the bottom of my list and out of my daily curiousity.

So, with an eye to the horizon,

I shall endeavor to place more
 slightly to the left of reality                           
musings in my blogging.  
Just whatever is on my mind.

Are "They" sure "They're" are ready for this?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

WHAT is Mightier than the Pen???

It's amazing what you can find when you start typing in strange requests of Google.  Today, I found a gem in a pen refill.

I work in an office.  While working, I use a pen...frequently.  Useful things, they are handy for jotting down notes, doodling, scratching hard-to-reach-places, pointing at things, and a host of other spur-of-the-moment things you need that slender object in your hand to do. 

                I have a favorite pen.

Within everyone's lives, they acquire 'favorite' things - stuff that they use or gaze upon on a daily basis.  It's hardwired into our brains to recognize things we come into contact with repeatedly, and to attach a feeling of familiarity to them. 

With that said - I'm attached to this favorite pen of mine. 

This particular pen was received as a freebie from a marketing company years ago, pre-branded with the company's name on its shiny red barrel.  It was addressed to the owner of my company, who preferred the cheap plastic ones he could chew on - so I acquired it in his stead.  Funny enough...about a week after the pen (and the included marketing come-on) arrived at the office, I received a call from the marketing company wanting to know how "He was enjoying his free pen."

Dontcha just love salesmen?

Well...I enjoy my lovely little pen M-F, 9 to 5, excluding Holidays and Vacation time  - it has a nice feel and weight to it that you don't get from your cheaper disposables, and continue to buy the replacement ink cartridges for it.  Alas...the name of the marketing company and salesman who called those many years ago has been lost in the darkest corners of my memory.   

But I still have the pen.

Would you believe  -  -  I've chased co-workers across the office for my pen?   Quite unconsciously, a borrower will occasionally attempt to become a thief - especially at the beginning of the work day before the coffee has kicked in. 

After 7 or 8 years of superb service, my pen has become quite unique amongst pens (the 'I've been front line on several wars' finish is very unique) so it's easy to single out from the plethora of cheap disposable Bic ballpoints inhabiting my co-worker's desks, even when I don't catch the thief in the act.

Well - the refill ran out of ink today.  Yea, it happens.  It just shouldn't have happened so soon based on my normal usage.  

Soooo - frustrated with my brand of ink refill                        - into Google I go.

THE first thing to show up?  This gem

I haven't had this good a giggle in a while.  The level of snark - NINJA.
I'll be giggling all the way to Office Depot to find a new refill.

sorry won't be a Mont Blanc.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oh....What a Tangled Web we Weave...

October.  Harvest season.  The time when the plants have completed their life-cycle, and are preparing to die or go dormant for the long winter sleep.  The squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents tear madly about from tree to ground, location to location, in a last frantic burst of gathering nuts and seeds to sustain themselves in the long, cold months just ahead. The trees shift from summer green to the reds, oranges, yellows and browns of the Autumn palette - and are filled with birds preparing to migrate to warmer climates.  (smart freaking birds, if you ask me...)  

Empathically, this is my worst season, even as I peak with creativity (how can I not, with all the activity and color around me?)  I keenly feel the shift in the Earth from growth to sleep.  I want to join with this cycle.  I want to sleep all winter, too...

Damn this whole 'human' thing!

The calendar culminates the Harvest Season with All Hallow's Eve - Halloween.  As with every other holiday in the States, we've turned this one into a commercial orgy of "buy, buy, buy!!!!!" - but this season is also paired with "scare, scare, scare!!!"

People spend a ton of money on Halloween - on candy, costumes & decorations.  Parties are planned and thrown, new recipes are researched and experimented with, pranks are schemed up and instigated.  Movies are rated for their fright-factor, and the blood (simulated, or course) flows both on the screen and on the watchers.  Sometimes other, more genuine bodily fluids make public appearances, as well.


At one time, the neighbors who lived on the first level of the home I was sharing were REAL Halloween nuts.  It was their favorite holiday, and they decorated like fiends.  They had tombstones in the front yard, hanging heads in the backyard, cobwebs in the hallways, coffins and zombies and witches and skeletons and anything else you can think of scattered about the house and grounds.


They even had the flat witch on her broom stuck to a tree, which never fails to elicit a chuckle from me...

The also threw one hell of a party...costumes mandatory.

I was coming home from a night out with the SQO the night of their party.  By the time I was coming up the street, their party was in full swing - the alcohol was flowing, the music was rocking, the party-goers all over the house and grounds.  As I turned into the driveway, my headlights illuminated a pair of men dressed in dark blue spandex body suits with bright yellow boots, matching letters on their chests, masks covering their eyes, elbow-length gloves, and coordinating 'undies' in the crotch region - superheros who had left their capes at home.

Unfortunately, in the uncertain light from the street and my sudden illumination from the headlights - all that got bright was the yellow portions of their costumes.  My first and immediate thought - 'Are they wearing diapers?????'

Thanks to the Halloween deities that my windows were closed, because I couldn't help but blurt that one out. 

Halloween - It's one hell of a holiday - especially with shenanigans like these.

The teapot and I are celebrating Halloween this year with a web Zentangle design.  This is one of the most complex things I have done with 'shop to date.  It involved a layer mask and a distortion file, and a couple of alternate filters to give it the look it ended up with.  I'm quite pleased, even if it really doesn't invoke 'scary,' suggest the harvest season, or pretend to be a diaper.  It's a web, and webs are significant to the Halloween spirit.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

The pebble I picked up recently (see Zen and the art of Photography) turned out to be a VERY fertile seed.  I've started creating Zentangles on my computer.  Not traditional, as I use electronic means instead of doing it the old fashioned way, putting ink to paper, so I've obviously forged back into my field of weeds to blaze my own trail in this artform.

This is the web design all flat - before I distorted it to fit around the teapot.

 These next 2 are actually the same grid and the same patterning within the grid lines.  On the left is the straight grid, and I gave it a fuzzed texture - it almost looks like carpet.  

The one below has a twirl and some additional filters added to it for a decidedly darker look.

But wait!  I was talking about Halloween!

For me, Halloween stopped being an "Oh my GAWD!  I can't WAIT!' holiday when I decided, in my 13 year old, teenaged brain, that it was too much work to design a costume, figure out how to/actually go through the work to/ craft said same, and then to walk around the neighborhood at night to beg for sugar.  

See, I didn't get to just run down to the store with the parental units and pick out something ready-made. 

If I wanted a costume, the entire blueprint had to come out of my head.  I had to come up with the concept - what I wanted it to look like, how it was going to be constructed, what materials I'd need, was I going to be able to breathe and see and walk in it, etc.  

The whole shebang had to be crafted.

It wasn't that we were poor, or my parents were uncaring or unavailable.  They were always ready, willing and able to lend assistance (one year, my mom sewed me a green jumpsuit because I wanted to be a martian) and they bought the supplies I'd need (the robot was a fun year - I got to save boxes and old coffee cans, and use tools, wire, and spray paint!).  

They were teaching me to think, and design, and explore the ordinary things around me with a creative perspective.  This pile of ordinary STUFF could be transformed into something unique and special with a bit of ingenuity and work.

They turned me into the creative machine I am today.

They did good.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Zen and the art of Photography

I found this adorable frog sitting in a yoga pose in my SQO's sister's back yard this spring.  He was just contemplating life in a classic yoga pose, arms resting on legs in lotus position, fingers touching to create a circle, surveying the backyard and springtime in Wisconsin.  Then I came along with my camera and 'shop skills, and introduced him to the finer points of tea consumption.  I hear he is now up to 8 cuppa day of Earl Grey, sun-warmed and liberally laced with honey to attract flies. 

I've received a bill for the added grocery expense...sometimes photography can be expensive in weird ways.

But, I'll do just about anything for a Zen fix.

My workplace has been on a wellness kick since they reviewed the insurance costs last year.  We got the typical posters on the lunch-room board for 'how to eat healthy,' 'how to sleep healthy,' 'how to quit smoking,' etc., which are pretty typical fare in Corporate America:  easy to find, pre-chewed, and ready to regurgitate on command.

This is where a lot of Corporate America stops, rubber-stamping their wellness campaigns and patting themselves on the back for a job well done. All surface, and no real substance. 

A more honest sign would have 'This PSA brought to you by the Health Nazi's who believe they know more about your body then you do.'

**warning** political content detected!  Subject change NAOW!

My company's HR department likes to think outside the box, and aren't afraid to put in the work to do so.

In January, we were all invited to 'walk to warmth.'  Pedometers were offered free of charge, and the participants counted their steps.  Once a week, we reported our steps, which were then totaled together, our combined efforts mapped out in miles, and our progress to a destination charted.  Each week, we'd get a rundown of how far the group had walked, where we now were in geographical terms, and a little bit of history about the location we had made it to.

We made it from Wisconsin to Pasadena, FL, in a little more than 2 weeks (we have some people who walk a LOT).  Since then, we've wandered around the US, occasionally crossing our path, and are finally heading home.  Boy, are my imaginary feet sore.

I can't say that the Walk to Warmth campaign got me to walk MORE, but it did give me a baseline on just how much activity I'm (sadly) not getting.

I love to travel - metaphysically, at least.  

A new wellness initiative they have been working on, and just introduced, was the discounted membership rates at one of our local gyms.

I raced to the place and plunked my monies down.  Not, as you should realize by now, to go sweat on their wall-o-torture equipment (the dreaded elliptical, treadmill, free-weights, etc...) but because this particular gym has a pool.

I absolutely LOVE swimming laps.  I don't go fast, I'm not in it for the energetic splashing or beating the clock or any of the other 'macho' crap that people attempt to get out of their workouts. 

I drift.

           I glide.

                       I create as few ripples as possible. 

I silently flow from one edge of the pool to the other, back and forth, pacing the pool, as it were, much as a person paces the waiting room of the hospital when their significant other is in the operating theatre.

Except I don't have the stress and anxiety of the hospital-pacer.  My pacing is freedom.


When I synchronize my muscles and my breath in a repetitive cycle, my mind is free to wander.  I have times when I think of financial, household, personal, or other concerns that are eating my mind.  I have times when I compose a new story line, or trip down the fantastical rabbit-hole to somewhere I haven't been before.  Sometimes, I brew up a hot cup of tea for a new blog post...

I also have times when the mind simply goes dormant, quiet, an impartial participant/observer of each clear moment of NOW as it happens, there but separate from the automatic body-motions as I glide, stroke, glide, stroke, glide my way through the water. 

This is my Zen.  Achieving thought through no-thought.

I'm sure there are other, more knowledgeable blogs and articles out there on how to 'properly' achieve Zen, who would scathingly lambaste my attempts as a milquetoast attempt with NO foundation in their granite-set rulebook, but I really don't care.  When I swim slow laps, the body goes on autopilot, the mind crystallizes into the now, and Zen becomes my reality.  

See...I don't wish to travel on an already established road, either metaphysically or in, for lack of a better term, reality.  I choose not to follow rote instructions, diagrams or beliefs.  I have studied, and incorporated, bits and pieces from the 'establishments' into my life journey, finding that each has a piece of the ultimate answer ('s not 42) but have lost the way by dictating the minute, day-to-day actions as one-size-fits-all.

Step off the path, put down the holy book, and stop with the rote formulae handed to you by others as a 'go directly to enlightenment' card.  These are human trappings, and if you focus on them, you limit yourself.

And, if you see a figure in your metaphysical journey, making their slow way across an ungroomed field of weeds, stop for a contemplative moment and let me join you for a spell.  I can't guarantee we'll walk the rest of the road together, but, for a time, we can experience things in concert.

Thank you for reading the 'slightly to the left of normal' ramblings...

Let's get back to all things Zen.  My cursory, slightly mad exploration of the 'net turned up an interesting blog. Art Photographer | Life Blogger |

A special nod to the author of this blog - Karen Lynn Sandoval - for documenting your journey for all to see.  I came across your path, and found it absorbing.
Karen does many things...including an art form called Zentangle.

I do remember reading up on Zentangles quite a while ago, and my initial, brief scanning of the quickly available data available on the web gave me a completely WRONG idea on what the art  encompasses.  I thought one simply put pen to paper and drew abstract shapes until a piece of art emerged, following the unconscious design of the creator.

Yea - I was completely wrong.  About the only thing I got right was the pen to paper bit.

Zentangle follows a very precise set of rules.  The area in which you work has to be 3.5x3.5 inches.  The paper has to be white, unadorned, handmade or commercially available is the artist's choice, but the less occlusions or texture on the paper the better.  The true tangle is devoid of color - only black and white...and no pencils allowed.  Mistakes are incorporated into your design. 

Create a border first, freehand, so you don't go outside the lines (remember "the lines are our friends?).  Then start with a 'string' (a few lines drawn within the border) where you will attach your tangles.  You then begin applying your patterns.

And the patterns of Zentangle? - they are many, varied, and precise.  People study these patterns.  People teach these patterns.  There are books and videos and schools for these patterns.

You create your tangle with single-minded focus on the pattern you are choosing, blotting out all other considerations and concerns while you put pen to paper.  This encompasses the wonder of Zen - concentration and mindfulness on the moment, crystallizing your attention on the now, instead of the everywhen.

Have I said lately that Zen is a beautiful thing?

I may just have to take the essence of tangling, and put my own spin on it.  I stepped onto Karen's well-traveled path, picked up a stone, and now contemplate what to do with the pebble in my pocket.  I can hear it nattering in my metaphysical ear even now.

With my love of all things 'shop - I can't wait to see what I come up with.