Thursday, March 6, 2008

That Thing I Do

The installation of the "Amazing Bodies" life science exhibition in Amarillo, Texas, is complete! I am quite pleased with how this one came out, I have to say. The activities are fun and informative, and the large-scale graphics turned out beautifully. For those of you who don't really know what I do, imagine a big empty room with boring grey carpet and white walls and then look at this picture. What I do, with my cute little teammates, is research the client's chosen exhibition topic to the nth degree, then figure out what content can be turned into cool ideas that people can actually touch and do--basically, we come up with the idea behind every single exhibit that goes in that boring white and grey room. Then, the design team here turns those ideas into "things" that can be fabricated. While all that is happening, it's my job to write interesting words for all of those exhibits using the research that we've gathered and to work with the graphic designers to come up with a label that has all that information in it. A lot of times, that also includes me researching endless photos to find that one special cow or lung X-ray or jumproping child that we want to put on that label (since we know better than the graphic designer what exact type of cow, lung or child we would like to see on that label). I also help develop any multimedia programs and find videos and sounds for any exhibits that have media in them.

And then, while I'm doing that, I set and follow where the project budget is going, set the schedules, track the project's progress and keep it moving, and communicate with the client to get their approvals as we go along. But that's all. :-)

I'll be going out to Amarillo in mid-April to do a photo shoot of the exhibit, so I should get some better photos of it. It's the first time I've ever had to handle one of our photo shoots, so that should be loads of fun. Even more exciting is the chance to see the exhibition first-hand. I spend, on average, two years of my life working on a project, but I've only been to about half of the finished exhibitions. I'm usually too busy working on the next one to go!

And what's next, you ask? Well, now that I've wrapped up a life sciences exhibition along with a small ecology exhibit about the cypress-tupelo swamps of Louisiana and East Texas, I've moved on to a project about the maritime history of the Gulf of Mexico. That's a new one! But I now know how to find my longitude and latitude if I'm ever stranded in the middle of the Gulf with a boatload of nineteenth-century navigation tools. Life is good!

By the by, that activity in the picture asks people to try to match the heartbeat rate of a dog, human and cow. It's harder than you think! And we had to track down real, plastinated hearts of all those critters, which you can see in the windows there.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

For No Reason Whatsoever

How cute are these guys? Sickening!

How Does Our Garden Grow

Apologies to all those in more northern climes, but check out our garden box! This was shot today, March 2. Last summer's box failed pretty miserably after my post about it. Not only did the corn fall to pests, but so did everything else in a matter of about 30 hours. It was a sad state of affairs, and the weather became too hot to replant anything. This year, I tried planting earlier—in January—hoping for better results. I hit it right for the lettuces, herbs, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, I think, but too late for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. The cauliflower and cabbage plants are growing but aren't producing anything; the broccoli hasn't moved at all. Next time, I'll plant all three of those in October. Still, I've already harvested off the lettuces three times and they just keep shooting out more leaves. Hurrah!

All of this has continued to spur my thinking about gardening & "smallholding" within the suburban landscape. Why, exactly, do we have this cultural obsession with grassy yards that do absolutely nothing but demand attention, water and chemicals? The days of the Victory Garden are long gone but not that far away. I would love to see a rejuvenation of the idea that anyone, no matter where they live, can grow some of their own food. I'm personally surprised by how little time it takes to look after things that grow themselves. Granted, our scale is small indeed, but the results are larger than I expected them to be given the amount of time I spend on it.

I'm now thinking what else we could do, including ripping out the scraggly plants along our fence in the backyard and replanting them with either bananas or blueberries (or both!). Did you know Florida is now a major supplier of blueberries? I'm looking at a species called "Sunshine Blue" as a possibility. It's a dwarf with the lowest amount of "chill hours" required to create delicious fruit—a nice plus in a state that completely missed winter this year. I'm not sure what else we might do here, but a call to the Cooperative Extension Service is next on my list. Maybe they can help!

And my idea of installing a few chickens in the backyard continues unabated. I'm just waiting to get a larger plan in place before jumping into anything as major as that. In the meantime, I can enjoy the chicken flock (complete with illegal rooster) that some construction worker is raising on a work site next to my office's parking lot. Go, urban farmer, whoever you are!

Back from Beyond

Wow, it's been a long time since we checked in here at the HandyHouse. So much for best intentions, eh? A few things have happened since October, including a little trip to Paris that Jeff and I took the first week in November. It was fantastic, not in small part because we managed to squeeze it in between two major transit strikes that brought Paris to a standstill in mid-October and mid-November. If the French love anything as well as they love wine and fine food, it's a chance to protest.

We're very happy to report, however, that we had an absolutely wonderful time. Although a bit cold and rainy, November is a great month to visit this very popular city, since the crowds are much smaller and the cost of lodging is significantly cheaper. As has always been my experience in the past, everyone we met was very kind and helpful. I'm sure it didn't hurt that we always tried to speak French; Jeff had downloaded some great podcasts that helped him learn some and helped me remember a lot of what I forgotten from school. Like any people would, I think the French appreciate it when you at least make an effort, and it made our experience far more enjoyable and challenging.

Our apartment was cute and really well located, with a nice market at one end of the street and Notre Dame at the other, although I'm somewhat convinced that I got a few bedbug bites in our sleeping loft. Ew! Still, when your view is a gorgeous garden in autumnal splendor, it's hard to complain too much.

Since this was Jeff's first trip to Paris, we focused on seeing the "big things," including the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Montmartre and the Orangerie, where Monet's "Water Lilies" paintings are housed in two custom-built, sunlit galleries. I had never been there before, and it was probably my favorite museum of the bunch. In addition to the Monet works, they had a small but lovely collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. It was just the right size to feel comfortable and allow us to really spend time looking at them. The larger museums are packed with wonders, to be sure, but their massiveness does create a sense of "work" that's a bit unfortunate and exhausting. We had "Paris Passes" that gave us entry to all the museums as much as we wanted for the entire week, which allowed us to visit the Louvre three times. We still saw only a fraction of what it offered! We didn't have time to do everything we had hoped, but Jeff is now "caught up" with most of my previous experiences in Paris, meaning that our next visit there will allow us to do more exploring off the beaten paths, including a descent into the Catacombs, I hope. We can't wait to go back!

We have hundreds of photos that still need labeling. As soon as that's done, we'll post an address to the online gallery and you can browse them at your leisure.